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What will 2024 hold for Rory McIlroy as Ulsterman successfully defends Dubai Desert Classic title?

Rory McIlroy claimed a record fourth Dubai Desert Classic title on Sunday as the world number two successfully defended his title at Emirates GC.

The Northern Irishman trailed by 10 shots at the halfway stage, but an exemplary third-round 63 put McIlroy two shots off leader Cameron Young heading into the final round and a Sunday 70 was enough for the four-time Major champion to prevail by one shot from Poland's Adrian Meronk.

It has been an encouraging start to 2024 for McIlroy, whose fourth Desert Classic success followed second place to Ryder Cup team-mate Tommy Fleetwood at last week's Dubai Invitational.

A first Major win since 2014 will be high on McIlroy's priorities for the year and in particular another tilt at the career Grand Slam at The Masters.

All eyes now to turn Augusta

A Green Jacket remains the glaring omission from McIlroy's CV and his Masters prospects will again be at the forefront of the conversation ahead of the first Major of the year.

He undoubtedly has the game to conquer Augusta and he is 8/1 to finally scratch his long-standing Masters itch in April.

McIlroy famously blew a four-shot lead after 54 holes in the 2011 Masters when aged just 21 and he has since posted seven top-10 finishes at Augusta, including when runner-up to Scottie Scheffler in 2022.

Only reigning champion Jon Rahm (15/2) is currently ahead of McIlroy in the betting for the opening Major of 2024 and it will be interesting to see how the Northern Irishman approaches his latest assault at a hallowed Green Jacket.

McIlroy played five times before missing the cut at last year's Masters - finishing in a tie for second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and third at the WGC World Match Play. However, he missed the cut at the Players Championship in between.

The 34-year-old will have to plot a slightly different route to Augusta this year due to his involvement in the PGA Tour's signature events.

McIlroy will be next in action at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which starts on Thursday, February 1st, and will then likely take in the Genesis Invitational two weeks later and the Arnold Palmer in March before the Players at TPC Sawgrass.

Slow starts still a factor

Losing early ground has been a familiar tale for McIlroy since claiming his fourth, and so far most recent, Major success at the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla.

McIlroy was able to recover from another slow start in the Dubai Desert Classic, with his nine-under-par 63 on Saturday thrusting him back into contention.

But despite acknowledging that victory in the UAE gives him a "great platform to build from" for the season ahead, McIlroy will only be too aware that if he is to end his long wait for a fifth Major he cannot afford to be left in the starting blocks with such regularity.

A level-par 72 was seven shots more than first-round leaders Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Brooks Koepka at last season's Masters. And while he finished just three shots behind champion Scheffler at Augusta a year earlier, McIlroy began the final round 10 shots adrift of the American.

Majors rotation in Rory's favour

It's hard to believe that it is almost a decade since McIlroy last landed one of golf's biggest prizes given his talent and achievements during his career.

McIlroy has posted 20 top-10 finishes in Majors since winning the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla, which will again host that particular tournament in May.

A return to Kentucky should be a boost to McIlroy's hopes of ending his Majors drought, and whatever happens at Augusta a month earlier he should be among the protagonists in Louisville.

McIlroy is 10/1 to win a third PGA Championship title this year - he also won the Wanamaker Trophy at Kiawah Island in 2012 - and he is 8/1 to claim a second Claret Jug with victory in July's Open Championship.

This year's Open will be held at Royal Troon, where McIlroy finished in a tie for fifth behind winner Henrik Stenson in 2016.

McIlroy is 10/1 to win June's US Open, which will be held at Pinehurst No.2 for a fourth time in 2024.

Martin Kaymer won the last US Open to be held at the North Carolina resort in 2014, when McIlroy tied 23rd.

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