‘This is probably sweeter than it should be’: Rory McIlroy revels in his one-shot Dubai Desert Classic win over bitter tee-gate rival and LIV rebel Patrick Reed, as he manages to win his opener for the first time in 14 years
- Rory McIlroy admits his Dubai Desert Classic win is ‘sweeter than it should be’
- Northern Irishman beat bitter tee-gate rival Patrick Reed by one shot on Monday
- McIlroy admitted there was more added incentive to win because of Reed
If the pilot flies a plane like his passenger drove his golf ball, Rory McIlroy will be taking the scenic route home to Florida. And yet there will be a trophy in the hold and the satisfaction in his mind of a grudge match dramatically won.
That McIlroy claimed his third Dubai Desert Classic in third gear is only the barest summary of his eventful trip to the Middle East, which is to say one that started with an almighty storm in a tee cup and closed with an oversized teapot in his arms.
In both sagas, he squared up to Patrick Reed, and together they served up a peculiar and magnificent brand of theatre, with one act given to the acrimony of a tossed tee and in the next a thrilling sporting contest that was eventually settled with the final putt of the final hole.
Rory McIlroy has admitted his Dubai Desert Classic win is ‘sweeter than it should be’
‘Was there added incentive because of who was up there?’ McIlroy said, before answering his own question: ‘Absolutely.’
Reed – who else? – had been the LIV golfer who surged from the pack in the fourth round to turn a McIlroy procession into a fascinating slugfest.
His deficit to the world No 1 at the start of play was four shots, but a brilliant 65 had seen the controversial American home in 18 under for the tournament and dead level with McIlroy in the group coming up behind him.
Over to McIlroy. With driver in hand, he had often looked wayward in his first tournament of the season, and with an ominous slice he nearly blew it at the last.
He had lost this same event in 2022 with an approach into the water at 18 and this time his tee shot came within six inches of drowning.
The Northern Irishman beat bitter tee-gate rival and LIV rebel Patrick Reed by one shot
Reed (left) lost his ball up a palm tree during his third round at day four of the event
That left a decision – to go for the green of the par-five from 200 yards out of the rough and over water, or lay up, knowing a five would necessitate a play-off and a direct pairing with a man he had avoided on the course ever since their driving range spat.
This being McIlroy, there was still ’20 per cent’ of his brain that sided with bravado, but ultimately the words of his mate and caddie, Harry Diamond, brought him to sense.
‘Just hit a wedge,’ was the advice, and so he left himself 92 yards for an up-and-down to win, which he pulled off with a sliding 15-footer for a birdie four – his putter was as hot this week as his driver was cold.
When his ball disappeared for a 68, and a one-stroke victory, the place erupted and so did he.
‘It was a battle all day,’ he said. ‘Honestly it’s been a battle all week.
McIlroy admitted there was more added incentive to win because of LIV golf defector Reed
‘I’m going to enjoy this. This is probably sweeter than it should be or needs to be but I feel like I’ve still got some stuff to work on. I really feel like I haven’t had my best all week but I showed a lot of mental strength.’
Sweeter no doubt because it was Reed. Sweeter no doubt because of the role McIlroy has adopted in being the critic-in-chief of the LIV circuit Reed represents.
Just as he thrived in that role in 2022, the Northern Irishman would seem to be picking up in 2023 where he left off, given this was the first time in 14 seasons as a professional that he has won his opener. To the ongoing question of when he will win his next major, this year feels as good a bet as any.
But he knows this tournament was hard won, not least because Reed had briefly led on their respective back-nines by a stroke.
Had the 2018 Masters champion not bogeyed the 16th – his only blemish on the card – it might have been a different tale, and one that would have returned us to an odd incident on the 17th on Sunday, when he appeared to his ball into one tree but claimed to have found it in another.
In the wider storms around LIV and Reed, it was perhaps just another day. For McIlroy, it was a 36th professional title and a fine start to a huge season on and off the course.
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