Last year was a battle between old foes — a challenge Rory McIlroy looks back on fondly.
The Northern Irishman and Ryder Cup rival Patrick Reed were once again in the midst of a showdown, this time at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.
Punches were thrown, rebuttals came frequently, and the trophy came down to the final hole.
After he was forced to lay up on the closing par 5, McIlroy hit his third to makeable range. Once the winning putt fell, McIlroy’s celebration showed the importance of the day.
“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 afterward. “Forget who was up there on the leaderboard, and I did that really, really well.”
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland celebrates after holing the winning putt on the 18th green during the final round of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club on January 30, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
On Wednesday, McIlroy was asked to recount the moment.
“What I remember, I remember standing on the 10th tee and I think Patrick had just made eagle and I’m just like (dropping head), ‘Had to be him.’
“But I think just the sort of mental fortitude I showed on that back nine to not sort of let my emotions get the better of me and really stay focused, and yeah, just to make that birdie on the last to win by one, yeah, it meant — in the grand scheme of things, are people going to remember my third Dubai Desert Classic, I don’t know.
“But it meant a lot to me. I felt like I came through a bit of, not adversity, but I really just had to control my mind and my thoughts and my emotions on that back nine. I felt like I did a really golf club of that.”
Dubai Desert Classic: Photos
At a golf course where McIlroy owns an impressive course history — 3rd in 2022 on top of his wins in ’23, ’15 and ’09— it’s easy to see why he’s the favorite in ’24, especially when you account for his runner-up finish last week to Tommy Fleetwood at the Dubai Invitational.
Before his solo second, McIlroy has played competitively just once since the Ryder Cup, the DP World Tour Championship in November, a tournament McIlroy admits he wasn’t “100 percent motivated.” (McIlroy had already locked up the season-long points title.)
“I feel like I’ve had a three-month off-season, basically. So I think once — you’re going to come back and play,” he said. “You’re going to make some of those mistakes early on, and you know, it’s good to play an event like last week where you can learn from them and try to put those things right this week.
“And in the bigger scheme of things, you know, with this being a Rolex Series Event and the success that I’ve had here, look, I would have loved to have won last week.
“But even with all those mistakes I made, the fact that I still had a one-shot lead going down the last, you know, it says to me that my game is in really good shape, and I should be quite excited for this week.”
After his title defense in Dubai, McIlroy is headed to the States for the PGA Tour’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the second signature event of the season.
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) January 30, 2023