An ‘ecstatic’ Rory McIlroy enjoyed the perfect start to the year after holding off ‘tee-gate’ rival Patrick Reed to win a third Dubai Desert Classic.
McIlroy birdied the final two holes at Emirates Golf Club to card a closing 68 and finish a shot clear of American Reed on 19 under par.
Playing in the group ahead, Reed had also birdied the 18th to complete a superb 65 and set the clubhouse target, but McIlroy was not to be denied and holed from 15 feet on the last.
McIlroy, who had never previously won on his first start of the calendar year, said: ‘I just managed my game so well and played really smart.
‘Just ecstatic I gave myself an opportunity the first week back out and there’s tonnes of room for improvement but it’s a great start to the year.
McIlroy and Reed had begun the week embroiled in a war of words after the American, an LIV Golf rebel, threw a tee towards his old rival – an outspoken critic of the Saudi-backed circuit – after apparently being snubbed by him on the range.
The Northern Irishman said he did not see the tee but was unhappy at being subpoenaed on Christmas Eve by the lawyer representing Reed in a defamation lawsuit against several media members and organisations. Reed hit back by branding the world No.1 an ‘immature little child’.
Reed was also involved in another rules controversy in the third round when his tee shot on the 17th lodged in a palm tree. The former Masters champion and officials used binoculars to identify the ball, allowing him to take a penalty drop by the tree instead of having to return to the tee.
Reed insisted he was ‘100 per cent’ sure he could identify his ball, although replays appeared to show it had landed in a different tree.
McIlroy began the day with a three-shot lead but Reed edged ahead with a fifth birdie on the par-five 13th. But, in echoes of their epic singles clash at the 2016 Ryder Cup, McIlroy responded with a superb approach to the same hole and tapped in for a birdie.
A bogey on the 15th gifted Reed the lead again only for him to drop a shot on the 16th following a wayward drive and McIlroy took full advantage with a birdie on the 17th. His drive on the 18th stopped only a foot short of the water and he reached his ball just as Reed birdied to join him in the lead.
McIlroy then hit a wedge to the left of the pin and holed the putt before letting out a roar of relief and delight.