Li, who won the 2016 China Open and finished third at last year's Open Championship, is the first Asian victor of the event, and earned the biggest victory of his fledgling career with a tournament record score.
As good as that was, however, it was not good enough.
Haotong Li believes he produced some of the shots of his life to register the biggest win of his career to date at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The 22-year old, ranked No 60 in the world, matched McIlroy's closing 69 to maintain his overnight lead and claim the title.
The American began the final day two shots off the pace but two birdies and an eagle in his opening five holes put him in contention. Li played the event's final six holes in four under par - and birdied the last two - in what proved a wonderful display of nerveless golf.
"Birdieing 10, going two ahead there with Li making bogey, thought I was obviously in the driver's seat", he said.
There was that birdie-birdie finish as well, in the gathering breeze and on baked greens that made life much more hard than for the first three days.
"Yeah, definitely", McIlroy said.
"Once April starts, or the first time I go up there and play a couple of practice rounds, I'll start to think about Augusta", he added. His winning aggregate of 23 under par is a Desert Classic record.
Turkey Says White House Is Lying About Trump's Call With Erdogan
He further said that they "have an inherent right to defend themselves and will do so if necessary". He added that it "is not helpful to have these operations go on".
Kodaira set the course record at the Pun Hlaing Golf Club with a 63 but his impressive display could not help him overtake Peterson.
"I had to make that transition from Asia to Europe and I was trying to play in as many events as I could".
"But being in the positions I've been in and having two close calls it's a little hard".
Four-times major victor McIlroy started shakily with two bogeys before the turn, but scorched the back nine with a score of 32, including an eagle on the par-five 10th, to end on four-under for the round and stay within touching distance of Li.
"I'll probably need to play a bit better tomorrow to win, but you know, it's two weeks into the season and I've given myself a second chance to win a tournament".
"The Asian Tour is where I started and to be able to get a win here really means a lot", Peterson said.
"I have backed up low scores like that with another one but today it wasn't to be...quite happy with a 69", said the three-time European Tour victor after the round. Hatton was to finish third at 20 under, one ahead of Alexander Levy.