Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy to do battle in ‘Fleetwood Mac’ Dubai showdown

Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy after their rounds at the Dubai Invitational
Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy will be competitors rather than partners in Dubai on Sunday - Getty Images/Warren Little

Fleetwood Mac will be going their own way on Sunday. They are reunited on the main stage but will be concentrating on their solo performances.

On a sponsor’s dream leaderboard, Tommy Fleetwood leads Rory McIlroy by a shot in the Dubai Invitational and memories of their brilliant Ryder Cup pairing four months ago will be put to one side in a mouthwatering final grouping.

“I told Tommy after Rome that in him I’ve found a foursomes partner for life,” McIlroy said. “I love the way he plays, his rhythm, his demeanour. When you’re playing with a guy like that, it’s hard not to feed off him. But this time, I’ll try to do in opposition and I’m looking forward to it.”

When McIlroy finished off his 67 he walked to the recorders’ hut where he saw Fleetwood, who had just signed for the eight-birdie 63 that had taken him to 15-under and one clear. The duo hugged, before McIlroy said: “You’ve got me for company tomorrow. Let’s have ourselves a day.”

A little earlier, Fleetwood had wondered if he had ever played with McIlroy in the final group in the final round before. “You know, I don’t think I have,” he said. Ten minutes later, and McIlroy was recalling his triumphant scene at the Renaissance Club six months ago.

“We played together in the last two-ball on the last day at last year’s Scottish Open,” McIlroy said with a smile. “He might have forgotten about it — but I definitely haven’t.”

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off on the fourth hole during the third round of the Dubai Invitational
Rory McIlroy has made an impressive start to his 2024 campaign - Getty Images/Warren Little

It was all wonderfully well-natured and this is the ideal fashion for the DP World Tour to start off its year. The overwhelming majority in the professional male game are praying that 2024 sees peace break out between the Tours and LIV and that the fans get to see the best players facing off against each other again. This shootout at Dubai Creek will be a low-key but thrilling example of what the game could anticipate.

Fleetwood is certainly excited. He said: “Rory’s a close friend, yes, and is always great to play with, but, regardless, what you want to do is challenge your game against the best in the world and there’s nobody really better than Rory is there?”

It is fair to say that Fleetwood, the world No 15, is glad he chose this £2million event over the £6.5m Sony Open in Hawaii. However, he was not sure it was the wise option when he struggled to leave the island state at the start of this week. Having finished in a tie for 42nd in The Sentry on Sunday, Fleetwood discovered that evening’s flight to San Francisco had been cancelled due to the mass grounding of the Boeing 737s.

Tommy Fleetwood plays his approach to the 18th at Dubai Creek
Fleetwood's preparation for the event was less than ideal but has not stopped him surging up the leaderboard - Getty Images/Warren Little

Clare, his wife and manager, managed to fix up a connection the next morning at 7am, but was worried he would miss the flight to the UAE. He boarded with minutes to spare, but having set off for the airport at 4pm on Sunday, he reached his Dubai hotel at 9pm on Tuesday evening.

Granted, he was not travelling economy, but, with the 14-hour time difference, he was understandably bleary-eyed on Wednesday morning and Clare reports that “he hit the wall that evening”.

“Yeah, I have felt fatigued, but I’m not going to moan or make excuses, because I’ve played well,” Fleetwood said. “And on days like this, when the putter’s working and you are shooting eight-under you feel great whatever. I’m glad I came here, of course. It doesn’t always work out like this, but I’ve got the opportunity to go and play against Rory McIlroy on a Sunday. So far, so good.

As he aims for his title in 14 months, Fleetwood was quick to stress it is not a two-horse race. Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen — another former Ryder Cup partner of McIlroy’s — is two further behind on 12-under after a 66 with England’s Jordan Smith in a group on 11-under.

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