Rory McIlroy's stunning first-round finish ties 'Teegate' rival Patrick Reed for Dubai lead
LIV Golf boast the joint-leaders here at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, but with respect to Ian Poulter and Richard Bland, there are two players a few more rungs down the leaderboard who continue to command the spotlight and monopolise the narrative.
Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed began this $9million event involved in a bizarre episode already infamous in golfing folklore as “Teegate” and the fates seem determined to ensure they will finish it throwing eagles and birdies at each other.
The sponsors will be loving it, even if the desert downpours have forced a Monday finish. Poulter, 47, and Bland, 49, will return to complete their second rounds this morning both on eight-under with 15 and 14 holes left respectively) and then McIlroy and Reed will resume their challenges on six-under.
The third round will take place on Sunday, with the extra day featuring the finale. It has been messy - not to mention sloppy - but the stunning action has more than made up for the chaos.
McIlroy needed only six shots to finish off his first round on Friday morning – a remarkable stat given that the Northern Irishman had three holes to complete.
Rory starts the day with a hole-out eagle 🤩 #HeroDDC | #RolexSeries pic.twitter.com/SyPuvjrOIT
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) January 27, 2023
Little wonder that McIlroy came walking off his final hole (the ninth) shaking his head and laughing. The leaderboard told him that he was in a tie with none other than Reed. But that was not the reason for his mirth. “That was a wild 45 minutes,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy duly converted the four-footer for birdie on the seventh (his 16th) that he wisely left on Thursday when play was suspended for darkness. “I would definitely have taken the wrong line if I’d finished it off last night,” he said. But he pushed his tee-shot on the next into the desert. No matter, from 116 yards he hit a lob wedge and watched his ball spin into the hole for an eagle.
On his last hole, he again leaked his drive to the right and again, from the rough this time, played a rousing recovery, conjuring an eight-iron to within four feet.
'There's now way I should be six-under'
Two slices, two Seve impressions and two putts… and a six-under 66. “I’m usually the master of turning a 66 into a 70,” he said. “But that was the other way around. Look, the score glosses over the golf that I’ve played. There’s no way I should be six-under. I feel lucky because I could have been at least four or five shots worse.”
In contrast, Reed believes he should be a couple better after a few missed short putts, although the 2018 Masters champion was not about to moan having made his own eagle on Friday morning to grab a share of the advantage. His three on the par-five 18th was rather more orthodox, rolling in a 15-footer after a fine approach from 230 yards.
Goodness knows how either has managed to maintain their concentration and composure after the noise of the build-up.
It all began when McIlroy blanked Reed on Monday, later explaining that Reed’s lawyer had served him with a subpoena on Christmas Eve, demanding he testify in an antitrust case against the PGA Tour.
Not as dramatic when you see the video 😂 pic.twitter.com/n8cH76OaTL
— Irish Golfer (@IrishGolferMag) January 25, 2023
In response to the snub, Reed - who, himself, is personally suing the PGA Tour but insists he is not involved in those particular legalities - chucked a LIV-branded tee at McIlroy’s feet and a ludicrous media frenzy ensued.
But then on Thursday morning, McIlroy noticed that Reed was about to leave the hotel where they are both staying and alerted the Texan that there was a play suspension. Reed thanked him for that.
“Ironically, the first person I saw yesterday morning was Patrick Reed,” McIlroy said. “Look it's all fine. It’s been blown out of proportion. And you know, once the golf starts we cannot focus on all that nonsense but on the pars and birdies.” And the eagles, of course.