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McIlroy learning how to win when not 100 percent

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Taking a page out of Tiger Woods’ playbook, Rory McIlroy says that this year he has learned how to compete – and, more important, win – when he doesn’t have his best game.

That, of course, is disconcerting news for the rest of the world’s best.

The latest example was last week’s DP World Tour Championship, the season-ending event on the European Tour. Consider the circumstances. McIlroy had already clinched the yearlong Race to Dubai. He had missed the cut a week earlier in Hong Kong, citing fatigue. And upon arriving in Dubai, he developed a fever and battled symptoms of sunstroke.

Yet on Sunday, he conjured one of his best nine-hole stretches of the season, a closing flourish of five consecutive birdies to leapfrog Justin Rose (62) and win the season finale by two strokes.

“That’s the big difference this year,” McIlroy said Sunday, according to a report in Reuters. “When I’ve not been playing my best, I’ve still been able to compete and win tournaments. That’s something I said earlier in the year I wanted to try and get better at. Being able to win without your best game is what Tiger Woods has done for so many years.

“That’s why he’s won so many tournaments. I feel like I’m definitely not at that level quite yet, but I’m learning how to do it.”

There was little time for reflection afterward, but McIlroy ranked his 2012 moments thusly: winning the PGA Championship by eight strokes, followed by Europe’s rousing comeback at the Ryder Cup, with the Dubai Double closely behind.

“Next year I’ll again be focused on the majors,” he said, according to the report. “I won one in 2011 and one in 2012, so it would be nice to keep that run going. I also feel like I can improve in different areas of my game. I guess the challenge and fun of practice is trying to get better all the time.”