Rory McIlroy: The magician at work in Dubai

The 33-year-old Northern Irishman had a stunning 2022 on the golf course, where he won three tournaments

By Joy Chakravarty

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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. — AP
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. — AP

Published: Fri 27 Jan 2023, 12:14 AM

Rory McIlroy is trying hard for his 2023 to be a lot different from his 2022, but on the evidence of his first three days at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, his first tournament of the new season, it looks like more of the same for the world No1.

The 33-year-old Northern Irishman had a stunning 2022 on the golf course, where he won three tournaments and was inside the top-10 in 15 of his 22 starts.

Outside the ropes, McIlroy has taken a leadership role in becoming the PGA Tour’s voice in its battle against LIV Golf. He has also played a crucial role in the restructuring of the PGA Tour events and has been a key player in the formation of Monday Night Golf, which will be organised by his newly-formed company TMRW, in association with Tiger Woods.

His opening round on Thursday at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic – a two-under par through 15 holes before play was suspended – was a masterclass in mind over matter. He was having trouble with his hitting and should have been a lot worse, but wielded his putter like a magician, making several putts from over 10 feet to save par, or make birdies.

All this came following two days of what is now being called ‘Teegate’. An incident was blown out of proportions, where it was alleged that the 2017 Masters champion Patrick Reed threw a tee at McIlroy in disgust after he was ignored by the two-time Dubai Desert Classic champion at the driving range.

In his press conference, McIlroy acknowledged: “It was nothing. Patrick came up to say hello and I didn’t really want him to. From my recollection, that was it. I didn’t see a tee. I didn’t feel a tee. Obviously, someone else saw that. But it’s definitely a storm in a teacup. I can’t believe it’s actually turned into a story.”

And yet, McIlroy did not hesitate from taking a pot shot at Reed, as well as LIV Golf in general.

“If roles were reversed and I’d have thrown that tee at him, I’d be expecting him to bring a lawsuit,” said McIlroy, who revealed that he received a subpoena from Reed’s lawyers on Christmas eve to appear as a witness in their case against the Golf Channel, Brandel Chamblee and the PGA Tour.

“I was trying to have a nice time with my family on Christmas Eve and someone shows up on your doorstep and delivers that, you’re not going to take that well.

“You can’t pretend like nothing’s happening, right? I’m living in reality. I don’t know where he’s living. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t expect a hello or a handshake.”

McIlroy said he felt mentally drained towards the end of 2022 and attributed it to things going on outside the ropes against LIV Golf and to support the PGA Tour.

“On reflection, I felt like I needed to take on quite a lot,” said McIlroy.

“But I think getting the wheels in motion of how hopefully the new system and the new structure of professional golf will be, it took a lot of effort last year. We just have to try to tidy up the schedule for 2024, but I feel like most of the heavy lifting was done last year. We still have quite a bit of work to do, but hopefully, this year it won’t be quite as taxing.”

McIlroy will finish his first round early Friday morning – he was left facing a three-feet birdie putt on the seventh hole – and is expected to have the rest of the day off. His second round will start on Saturday.

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