Rory McIlroy drains clutch putt to have last laugh over Patrick Reed

Rory McIlroy drains clutch putt to have last laugh over Patrick Reed - AP
Rory McIlroy drains clutch putt to have last laugh over Patrick Reed - AP

An eight-day week of golfing madness ended here at the Emirates Golf Club with Rory McIlroy lifting his third Dubai Desert Classic title in one of the most dramatic finales the DP World Tour has ever had the pleasure to witness.

On one Monday, Patrick Reed chucks a tee-peg at McIlroy that the Northern Irishman doesn't even notice. On the very next Monday, McIlroy hurls a pair of birdies at Reed that floors the American completely. McIlroy by a sensational knockout.

Good beating evil? Perhaps that is ever so slightly over the top, but be sure that the burghers of the European circuit - as well as those of the PGA Tour for that matter - were popping champagne corks after the poster boy of the establishment fought back to deny the pantomime villain of the Saudi-funded LIV circuit.

McIlroy knew there were greater things at stake than the mere fact of a £1.25million cheque for his overflowing bank balance. “I had to work really hard to forget about who was up there and just try to focus on myself,” he said, after his 68 for a 19-under total. “But was there added incentive because of who was up there? Absolutely. Looks great that there's an ancillary benefit to me winning instead of someone else. But at the end of the day I want to win for me and my legacy and leaving my mark on the game.”

McIlroy began the final round - forced into the extra day by the Thursday downpours - with a three-shot advantage. Reed was actually four behind but caught his rival by the fifth after a succession of birdies. Thereafter, it was a thrilling to-and-fro - with another LIV rebel Ian Poulter also involved for a spell - until it became a two-horse race going down the stretch.

And it just happened to be the two horses who had reared up at each other before the starting tape had even fallen. To recap, Reed was upset that McIlroy ignored his greeting on the range on the first practice day…. Reed reacted by flicking a LIV-branded tee towards his foe's feet… McIlroy informed the media that Reed’s lawyer had subpoenaed him on Christmas Eve… and so it carried on.

The story just would not die and that was not only because of the duo’s excellence on the Majlis Course. During the third round, Reed, yet again, became involved in a drop controversy after insisting ‘100 per cent’ it was his ball lodged up a tree, despite TV evidence suggesting it had disappeared into a nearby palm.

Reed’s defence steadfastly remains that he is sure it was his because of the distinctive markings he instinctively draws on his golf balls, primarily an arrow. But when questioned by Telegraph Sport, Matt Wallace, who played with him in that round, revealed that Reed did not mention any arrow.

“On the first tee, Patrick said he always plays a Titleist 3 and puts a red dot on it and a black line,” he said. “And that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.”

The accusations will thus continue, but, in terms of this $9million tournament, the upshot was that he rescued a bogey five on that hole, and stayed in the hunt. And then, after a presumably unencumbered sleep, he unleashed his talent to chase down his nemesis.

In fairness, Reed’s gumption - in the midst of all that noise - to shoot a 65 made this a desert duel for the ages. Say whatever you want about the 2018 Masters champion, say whatever you want about the breakaway Tour of which he is a member after a £50million deal, but there can be no doubting his competitive spirit.

Rory McIlroy drains clutch putt to have last laugh over Patrick Reed - GETTY IMAGES
Rory McIlroy drains clutch putt to have last laugh over Patrick Reed - GETTY IMAGES

Amateur psychologists will probably provide technical names for this type of character, but in layman’s terms, when his back is against the wall, he never seems so comfortable.

“I don't look at media or social media or anything like that during tournament weeks,” Reed said. “What is about me and Rory? We always seem to put on a good show when we are battling. I’ve had my successes against him, in the Ryder Cup [singles in 2016] and the final round of Masters. But not this time. It's pretty hard to spot Rory four shots and beat him.”

Yes, this was McIlroy’s manic Monday. The world No 1 showed his ranking is perfectly justified by his resolve to not only lay the Reed challenge to rest, but also his new year curse. In his 14 previous first starts of the calendar season, McIlroy, 33, had racked up four runner-up placings and a remarkable 12 top-fives.

“I’m glad to do something I’ve never done before and this means a lot, especially at the course where I won my first Tour title [in 2009],” he said. “It was obviously great to need a birdie down 18 as well and deliver, particularly after last year.”

In 2022, McIlroy was tied with Viktor Hovland heading down the 18th and he went for the green in two, before finding the water and missing out on a play-off by a shot. This time, he found himself on the edge of the water hazard - his drive being almost too long for its own good - but wisely decided to lay up.

His wedge from 92 yards gave him the opportunity to prevail in regulation and his punch to the air highlighted the significance when it dropped. “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 Holy Grail of what we are trying to do,” he said. “I’m really pleased with that side of it but definitely there's a ton of room for improvement going into the next few weeks.”