Masters preview? Rory McIlroy defeats Patrick Reed on final hole in Dubai

In a PGA Tour-LIV Golf proxy battle, McIlroy outpaced Reed by a stroke in Dubai

It's January, but there's already an April feeling in the air.

Rory McIlroy won the Hero Dubai Desert Classic on Monday with an 18th-hole birdie. That's impressive enough, but what took the victory to another level was the man whom McIlroy beat: Patrick Reed, the LIV defector who's establishing himself as the anti-McIlroy both on the course and in the courtroom.

Playing in the group ahead of McIlroy's final pairing, Reed birdied the 18th hole to finish with 65 and claim the clubhouse lead at -18. As Reed looked on, McIlroy proceeded to birdie both the 17th and 18th to claim the victory:

It was a fitting end to a tournament week that began with Reed and McIlroy sparring over a driving range incident in which McIlroy ignored Reed, and Reed responded by tossing a tee in McIlroy's direction. The one-time Ryder Cup duelists have headed in opposite ideological directions due to Reed's defection to LIV and McIlroy's close affiliation with the PGA Tour. Reed's decision to sue multiple entities in the golf world, and draw even more into those suits, led to McIlroy getting subpoenaed on Christmas Eve ... which in turn led to the bad blood on the driving range last week.

"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," McIlroy said on a Sky Sports interview just after the victory. "I just really had to concentrate on focusing on myself, forget who was up there on the leaderboard and I did that really, really well."

Reed began the final day four shots off the lead, but birdied the first two holes, and three of the first six, to cut the gap to a single stroke. He began the back nine eagle-birdie-par-birdie and held the clubhouse lead for a hole as McIlroy finished. It was a strong end to a tournament where Reed found himself involved in another rules controversy, this one following a wayward tee shot on the 17th, and whether a ball lodged in a palm tree on the 17th hole was actually his.

Reed was among a group of LIV players, including Ian Poulter, Richard Bland and Shaun Norris, who were in competition right up until the tournament's final day. LIV players are able to play in DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) events because of differing regulations and court verdicts between that tour and the PGA Tour.

The ongoing, simmering strife between LIV and PGA Tour players all appears likely to crest at the Masters in two months, an event where — for this year's event, at least — LIV players who have qualified for the Masters, including Reed, will be in attendance. McIlroy, who has emerged as the PGA Tour's strongest advocate, is on a collision course with the outspoken LIV players, and that collision is on a path to happen in Augusta in April.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 30: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates victory in the Final Round on Day Five of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on January 30, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates victory in the final round on Day 5 of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on Jan. 30, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images)


Contact Jay Busbee at or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.