McIlroy buries Dubai ghosts with dramatic last-hole victory

World No 1 wins record-equalling third Hero Dubai Desert Classic title with epic putt at the Emirates Golf Club


Leslie Wilson Jr

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Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, CEO of the Emirates Group, presents the trophy to Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. — AFP
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, CEO of the Emirates Group, presents the trophy to Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. — AFP

Published: Mon 30 Jan 2023, 5:22 PM

If there was any chance of feuding rivals Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed burying the hatchet during an epic final round at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, it did not materialize given the intensity that they brought to the Emirates Golf Club on Monday.

The pair, who have been the talk of the golfing world following verbal affronts and court cases, were paired together for the final round of the DP World Tour event.

And it could not have made for more riveting viewing and a compelling day’s play where every shot, every hole appeared to fuel the tension which ramped up several levels before McIlroy and Reed, both looking conflict-weary, arrived at the decisive 18th hole, almost four hours after they had set off earlier in the day.

With the scores locked on -18 and the prospect of a mouth-watering play-off looming large, McIlroy executed a putt that will long live in his memory, and that of Reed’s as well.

Needing to find the target from 14.6 metres for a match-winning birdie at the 559 hole, both beauty, and beast, McIlroy gathered his breath and resolve, and did what the hundreds of adoring fans were storming the heavens for – as he nailed it with the precision of a marksman.

And then came the reaction that triggered a crackle of camera triggers all around the hallowed green as McIlroy whipped around and emotionally punched the air in celebration.

If golf was lacking any heart then the 33-year-old Northern Irishman demonstrated what makes him tick and provides the sport a much-needed shot in the arm.

McIlroy was also able to bury the ghosts of the past having 12 months ago been denied victory by the narrowest of margins when he missed a birdie attempt on the final hole to gift the title to Norway’s Viktor Hovland.

Summing up what has been a tumultuous week with the weather playing havoc with the schedule over the opening two days, a relieved McIlroy said of his victory: “It means a lot. Look it was a battle all day. Honestly it's been a battle all week.

“Just ecstatic that I gave myself an opportunity the first week back out and again as I said I managed my game well. I definitely feel like there's tons of room for improvement but it's a great start to the year.”

If McIlroy was still good enough to win even though he was not playing his best golf, then it spoke volumes for his ability, golfing mindset, and tenacity.

“I really feel like I haven't had my best all week but I just managed my game so well and played really smart,” he admitted. “I think mentally today was probably one of the toughest rounds I've ever had to play because it would be really easy to let your emotions get in the way and I just had to really concentrate on focusing on myself.

“Forget who was up there on the leaderboard, and I did that really, really well.”

Soaking in an emotional roller-coaster, the Northern Irishman even allowed himself a rare pat on the back.

“I feel like I showed a lot of mental strength out there today, and again, something to really build on for the rest of the year,” he said.

“There's been a ton of positives this week but also been some things that I need to learn from and I need to try to improve on. 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.

“It's a great start to the year and a really good foundation to work from.”

Meanwhile, lest we forget, Australia’s Lucas Herbert, winner of the Dubai Desert Classic in 2020, shot a six-under 66 in the final round to clinch the third spot ahead of American Callum Shinkwin, while a determined Ian Poulter finished fourth, a good effort that was unhinged by a final-hole double-bogey that saw him end the week on 13 under.

Herbert was delighted with his third-place finish following a birdie, birdie finish and said: “I'm happy with that finish. I felt like we were probably almost playing for second going into the day.

“It's pretty hard to spot Rory five shots and try and chase him down to win a tournament. I felt like if I could finish second or third, it would be a really good day,” added the promising 27-year-old golfer from Victoria.

“So I sort of emerged from that pack at 12-, 11-, 10-under. Really pleased with that start to the year.

To finish third, second, or fourth in this quality field, I think it's good signs ahead for 2023.”

Final Scores

Purse: $9 million

Final score Player Country Ranking points Prize money

269 Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland (1335), $1,407,598

270 - Patrick Reed, United States (0), $910,799

272 - Lucas Herbert, Australia (500), $521,639

273 Callum Shinkwin, England (400), $414,000

274 Julien Brun, France (339), $351,072

275 Thomas Pieters, Belgium (260), $269,100

Ian Poulter, England (260), $269,100

276 Richard Bland, England (164), $170,568

Angel Hidalgo, Spain (164), $170,568

Marcus Kinhult, Sweden (164), $170,568

Henrik Stenson, Sweden (164), $170,568

Johannes Veerman, United States (164), $170,568

277 Adri Arnaus, Spain (122), $127,236

Calum Hill, Scotland (122), $127,236

Min Woo Lee, Australia (122), $127,236

278 Alexander Bjork, Sweden (105), $109,503

Romain Langasque, France (105), $109,503

Thorbjorn Olesen, Denmark (105), $109,503

Matt Wallace, England (105), $109,503

279 Wu Ashun, China (88), $91,198

Ryan Fox, New Zealand (88), $91,198

Rasmus Hojgaard, Denmark (88), $91,198

Jazz Janewattananond, Thailand (88), $91,198

Matthew Jordan, England (88), $91,198

Jordan L. Smith, England (88), $91,198

Bernd Wiesberger, Austria (88), $91,198

Michael Thorbjornsen, United States (0), $91,198


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