The final round of the 2023 Hero Dubai Desert Classic was a perfect encapsulation of the week that was at Emirates Golf Club: a battle between Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed.
After an overblown incident on the range earlier in the week where Reed tossed a LIV Golf tee McIlroy’s way, the two found themselves in a duel down the stretch on Monday that lasted until the 72nd hole.
Reed began the day four shots behind McIlroy but got in the mix thanks to five birdies and an eagle over his first 13 holes. The American made a costly bogey on the par-4 16th but birdied the last to tie McIlroy, who was slow to start, at 18 under. McIlroy made par on his opening eight holes before adding birdies on Nos. 9, 10 and 13. The world No. 1’s lone blemish of the day came on No. 15, but McIlroy rebounded with two clutch birdies on his final two holes to secure the one-shot win at 19 under..
“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,” said McIlroy, who praised his mental strength. “Forget who was up there on the leaderboard, and I did that really, really well.”
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“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,” he added. “It’s a great start to the year and a really good foundation to work from.”
The win was McIlroy’s third Dubai Desert Classic title, but it also came with a few career firsts. Now a 15-time winner on the DP World Tour, this week’s victory was not only the first Rolex Series win for McIlroy, but the first time he’s ever won his opening of a new year. After turning professional in 2007, McIlroy was 0-16 with 12 top-five finishes in his first start of a new year.
“Just ecstatic that I gave myself an opportunity the first week back out,” said McIlroy. “I definitely feel like there’s tons of room for improvement but it’s a great start to the year.”
McIlroy will tell you he hasn’t had his A-game in the bag by his standards, but the Northern Irishman entered the week on a hot run of form. Dating back to his Tour Championship win in October, McIlroy now hasn’t finished worse than T-4 over his last seven starts.
“I think again the most satisfying thing to me this week is I haven’t had my best, far from it and to be able to win when you don’t have your best, that’s the sort of like Holy Grail of what we are trying to do,” he said.
McIlroy shot rounds of 66-70-65-68 and made just five bogeys in Dubai. If more is to come for the reigning FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai champion, get ready for a wild 2023.