It started with a tee and ended with a putt. From the beginning of the week, Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed were embroiled in a tussle that ended up lasting all four rounds and culminated with a birdie-birdie finish by McIlroy to win the Dubai Desert Classic for the the third time. McIlroy also begins his year with a win for the first time in his decorated career.
Prior to the tournament, McIlroy ignored Reed's approach on the driving range in Dubai, citing that Reed's lawyer, Larry Klayman, had served McIlroy a subpoena at his home on Christmas Eve. Reed tossed a tee in the general direction of McIlroy (which, this being golf, became a massive storyline) and later referred to McIlroy as an "immature little child."
Then the tournament started.
McIlroy took a healthy lead into the final round in Dubai, shooting 66-70-65 in the first three rounds for what looked like it would be his third win in his last seven starts. Reed, who got caught up in another controversy during the third round on Sunday when his ball may or may not have landed in the tree in which he eventually identified it (see video below for the full story), had different plans on Monday in the finale.
If you haven’t seen the video of Patrick Reed’s tee shot at 17, here it is. pic.twitter.com/sgnKcLH4Sf— Brandel Chamblee (@chambleebrandel) January 30, 2023
The former Masters champion was 7 under through 13 holes, and McIlroy couldn't really get going. He played the first 15 in just 2 under, a respectable score but not enough with the whole field charging. On No. 17, though, he hit his approach to 4 feet to make the putt for birdie, and then gave himself a 14-footer for another birdie on the 72nd hole to win the tournament. He canned it for a birdie-birdie finish and the 15th win of his DP World Tour career.
Never in doubt 🙌@McIlroyRory claims his first Rolex Series victory.#HeroDDC | #RolexSeries pic.twitter.com/GVylbKzHVD— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) January 30, 2023
McIlroy has not finished outside the top four in his last seven professional tournaments, and he's won three of those, including last year's Tour Championship and CJ Cup. This one, though, was far more personal because of how everything began with Reed and because he was the one pushing McIlroy toward the finish line.
"Mentally it was very tough today," said McIlroy. "I felt like I could have let my emotions get in the way. I expended a lot of mental energy today trying to focus on myself and focus on shooting a score and trying to reach a number. I had to work really hard to forget about who was up there and just try to focus on myself."
McIlroy has lost to just 10 players in his last seven starts, and he has 12 top-five finishes in 17 starts dating back to the 2022 Masters. He and Jon Rahm, who has won four of his last seven starts, are far and away the two best players in the world. The scary part for the rest of the world is that McIlroy doesn't even feel great about his game right now.
"I think, again, the most satisfying thing to me this week is I haven't had my best, far from it, and to be able to win when you don't have your best, that's the sort of like the Holy Grail of what we are trying to do," said McIlroy. "Really pleased with that side of it but definitely there's a ton of room for improvement going into the next few weeks."
The win means McIlroy joins Els with three career victories at this event, the most of anyone in history.
"Dubai has been a big part of my career and my journey, and you know, to put my name on this trophy for a third time today, to join Ernie Els, is a pretty cool feeling," he said.