Rory McIlroy secured a dramatic victory in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic in what became a memorable and exciting direct battle with LIV Golf's Patrick Reed.
After making the winning birdie putt on the 72nd hole at Emirates Golf Club, McIlroy described the mental toll the final round took when considering it was Reed with who he was tussling for the second Rolex Series event of 2023.
The former Masters champion, who McIlroy blanked on the driving range last week, began four shots behind his opponent on Monday and carded an outstanding 65 to set the clubhouse target of 18-under.
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After flirting with danger on 18 where he found the water in 2022 while chasing victory, McIlroy made a sensible and solid birdie to seal his third win at the event and his 15th DP World Tour title.
Patrick Reed ties the lead with an eagle at the 10th.#HeroDDC | #RolexSeries pic.twitter.com/ijkeaIIrD1— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) January 30, 2023
McIlroy suffered an early scare on the par-3 4th hole. He implored his ball to go as it landed short of the green. He was relieved to see it stop rolling in the rough as it flirted with the water.
He saved par, but Reed started fast with three birdies in his opening six holes. The highlight of this opening stretch was a superb bunker shot which he holed for birdie on the par-4 6th hole.
After starting his round with eight consecutive pars, the Northern Irishman made his first birdie on the 9th hole and he led by two shots on 16-under. Reed, Ian Poulter and Lucas Herbert were his closest pursuers at this stage.
Reed played fantastic golf throughout Monday's final round. The 32-year-old hit an amazing approach to the par-5 10th hole which almost crashed against the pin for an albatross.
The eagle took him to 16-under in a tie for the lead. McIlroy made a birdie on the same hole to take a narrow lead and a birdie on 13 took the four-time major champion to 18-under.
Bunker magic @McIlroyRory remains at the top at -18. #HeroDDC | #RolexSeries pic.twitter.com/h2kSvOZPZv— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) January 30, 2023
But Reed matched him blow for blow. With more birdies on 11 and 13, the pair were tied on 18-under with holes running out. After he and McIlroy respectively hit errant tee shots on 16 and 15, both made bogeys to fall back to 17-under.
Reed showed super short game skills in the final round and he needed them to make par on 17. McIlroy drove the green on this hole and edged one in front on 18-under heading into the 72nd hole where it all unravelled for him 12 months ago.
The American played the par-5 18th to perfection with two imperious shots to the green. He tapped in for birdie to tie McIlroy who was a matter of feet away from the water with his tee shot.
Reed was in the clubhouse on 18-under and after laying up with a wedge and dispelling any risk of his ball finding any water, McIlroy left himself a 14-foot putt for birdie and the win which he duly holed.
It's the 33-year-old's third win in his last seven starts. It is a tournament that will live in the memory for some time what with tee-gate, the weather-delayed Monday finish and the ultimate battle of two players on opposite sides of the professional golf fence.
Never in doubt @McIlroyRory claims his first Rolex Series victory.#HeroDDC | #RolexSeries pic.twitter.com/GVylbKzHVD— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) January 30, 2023
Hero Dubai Desert Classic - Final leaderboard
-19 R McIlroy
-18 P Reed
-16 L Herbert
-14 J Brun, C Shinkwin
-13 T Pieters, I Poulter
-12 H Stenson, J Veerman, M Kinhult, R Bland, A Hidalgo