Rory McIlroy's sizzling six lights up Dubai Desert Classic

A snapshot of the six shots that the two-time Dubai Desert Classic champion hit to complete his remaining holes on Friday

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland competes at the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday. — AFP
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland competes at the Dubai Desert Classic on Friday. — AFP

By Joy Chakravarty

Published: Fri 27 Jan 2023, 4:39 PM

Last updated: Fri 27 Jan 2023, 4:40 PM

Rory McIlroy struggled through his first 60 shots when first-round play was suspended on Thursday.

A day later, the world No1 returned to a very wet golf course and was in sizzling hot from the get-go. He stomped home in just six spectacular shots. The three holes he played on Friday – a birdie on the seventh, a holed-out second shot for an eagle on the par-4 eighth, followed by an almost holed-out second shot on the par-4 ninth.

Two-under par through his first 15 holes, McIlroy was six-under par 66 when he finished his opening round, tied for the lead at that point with Patrick Reed, the man he was involved with in the now infamous and inconsequential ‘Teegate’ controversy.

Here’s a snapshot of the six shots that the two-time Dubai Desert Classic champion hit to complete his remaining holes on Friday.

Seventh hole, par-3, 186 yards:

McIlroy had already hit his tee shot on Thursday when play was suspended. It was a beauty, and left him with a four-feet birdie putt.

It was a good thing that he did not hurry up and try to finish the hole in the darkness.

“I thought last night the line was inside-right and I would have missed it low. It was outside the hole. This morning, I saw a different line and I must have played that a good ball and a half outside the cup. So yeah, I’m glad I left that till this morning,” McIlroy said.

Eighth hole, par-4, 459 yards:

The hole with the most iconic foreground of Dubai Marina, is not an easy one. The highly elevated green always makes the second shot very difficult and the severe slopes on the green asks for good putting skills.

No such issues for McIlroy. He smashed his drive long, but was unable to draw (move the ball right to left) it enough to reach the fairway. Stranded in the desert area, McIlroy choked down on his 54-degree wedge and hit his second shot straight into the cup for an eagle.

McIlroy said: “When something like what happened on eighth happens, it's just a bonus, right? I was trying to get that within 20 feet and if you make a birdie, great. A par is a good score on that hole anyway. It was a perfect, down-the-grip 54-degree wedge. For me, out of those lies, I just had to make sure I get the strike. It’s not even about direction. I have a tendency to hit those heavy.”

Ninth hole, par-4, 488 yards:

The ninth has been the most difficult hole on the Emirates Golf Club over the past several years. But when McIlroy is on song, difficult is nothing.

McIlroy hit a good drive, but it leaked right and was engulfed by thick, juicy rough. The 159-yard second shot became a lot more difficult from that lie, but he muscled it out in brilliant fashion with an 8-iron, sent it soaring even higher than the Marina towers, and landed it softly to less than four feet.

“I was sort of in between clubs. I thought an 8-iron, if it came out hot, would go to the back of the green, so I was contemplating it. But if the 9 comes out soft, it could have gone in the water. I took the safe play and hit the 8-iron and it came out perfect. It was very easy to bail out right and try to get it up-and-down for a par. But that was a good, committed swing.

Importance of the stretch

The biggest thing is that it keeps McIlroy in the hunt right from the opening round. There have been many tournaments in the past 2-3 years when he made a tepid start and lost his chance to win the tournament.

Finishing four-under par through the last three holes of the Majlis course has been done several times by several players. But to go birdie-eagle-birdie on seven, eight and nine has probably not been done before in the 34-year history of the Dubai Desert Classic.

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