The Northern Irishman's previous biggest recovery with two rounds to go was from five shots back at the 2015 BMW PGA Championship but having begun round three 10 adrift he closed out a one-stroke victory on one of his favourite courses at the Emirates Golf Club.
Saturday's 63 had catapulted him into contention but there were far fewer fireworks in his final round and, while McIlroy escaped with some loose shots over his last few holes, rivals Cameron Young and Adrian Meronk were also guilty of scrappy play and were unable to exert any meaningful pressure.
"I didn't really think about that (the comeback) during the course of the round," McIlroy, who shot a one-under-par 71 to finish 14 under, told Sky Sports.
"I thought the way the course was trending, two 67s would really have a chance and the 63 put me in a great position.
"I thought on Friday night 10 under for the weekend I'd have a really good chance and I shot 11 under and won by one.
"It was a really tricky day, it was hard to get it close and make a ton of birdies. The pivotal moment came on eight and nine when I made two threes."
McIlroy, who now has a victory and a second place in his first two starts of the season, added: "It wasn't one of those days where there was a ton of fireworks but I held on as best I could and thankfully no-one at the top of the leaderboard made a run.
"I made that one blunder on 13 and made bogey but felt I steadied the ship well over the final few holes."