Not for the first time in this particular part of the Middle East, Rory McIlroy was left to ponder what might have been after finishing third in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Making his first appearance of 2021, the four-time major champion entered the final round with a one-shot advantage In the opening event of the new European Tour season.
However, after a bright start he laboured to a level-par 72, which left the door ajar for playing partner Tyrrell Hatton to swoop in and steal the victory beneath the magnificent 'Falcon' clubhouse.
In 11 starts in Abu Dhabi, McIlroy now has four runner-up finishes and a further four third place finishes. He has also finished in a tie for fifth and 11th. Clearly, it’s a course that suits him.
However, his inability to convert from a winning position and end a winless drought that now stretches back 15 months left him frustrated.
“I started great with two birdies in the first three [holes],” said the Northern Irishman. “And then I felt like there was a few putts I hit today, the wind affected the putts more than maybe the last couple days.
“I don't feel like I played great this week. I felt like I was managing my game a bit. Nice to get a competitive week under my belt and see where my game is and what I need to do to keep on improving.”
McIlroy now faces the gruelling prospect 8,500-mile trip to California for this week’s Farmers Insurance Open. Top of the 'to do' list when he arrives at Torrey Pine will surely be to find a fix for his wayward long game.
Despite being third in Driving Distance in Abu Dhabi, averaging 323 yards off the tee, he was slap bang in the middle of the pack for Driving Accuracy, finding the fairway only 40.48% of the time.
“I thought for the most part of the week, my short game and my putting was good,” he added. “I scrambled well. Had some pretty good approach shots, especially last night coming down the last few holes. I thought there was parts of rounds where I got the driver going, even the last few holes this evening there I got the driver going a little bit.
“But still, sometimes I'll have a few holes where it's like that and there's a few holes where it sort of gets away from me. So, a little more consistency and being able to replicate the good ones hole after hole and then day after day until you sort of put four rounds together.”