It was a struggle – News Today, January 30, 2023

An ecstatic Rory McIlroy believes he has plenty of room for improvement after repelling a brilliant challenge from rival Patrick Reed to win a third Hero Dubai Desert Classic title in dramatic style.

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McIlroy shagged the final two holes at Emirates Golf Club to card a final 68 and finish a shot ahead of Reed at 19 under par as the wait for Monday’s first finish in tournament history was worth it.

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Reed was up front in the group and had also played 18th to complete a superb 65 and set the clubhouse goal, but McIlroy was undeniable and holed out on the last from 15ft to cement his status as world number one .

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“That means a lot,” said McIlroy, who had never won on his first start of the previous calendar year.

“It was a struggle all day, it was a struggle all week. I really feel like I haven’t had my best all week, but I just managed my game so well and played really smart.

“Just thrilled to have given myself a chance in the first week after exiting and there is plenty of room for improvement but it’s a great start to the year.”

McIlroy and Reed had started the week with a war of words after Reed threw a tee at McIlroy after being snubbed by him on the practice track.

McIlroy said he hadn’t seen the shirt but was unhappy to be subpoenaed on Christmas Eve by the attorney representing Reed in a defamation lawsuit against several media members and organizations, although McIlroy’s subpoena was a separate lawsuit brought by Larry Klayman against which relates PGA Trip.

With McIlroy watching from the tee, Reed also became embroiled in another rules controversy in the third round when his tee shot stuck in a palm tree on the 17th.

The former Masters champion and rules officials used binoculars to identify the ball, allowing Reed to execute a penalty drop near the base of the tree rather than having to return to the tee box.

Reed insisted he was “100 percent” sure he could identify his ball, although television footage cast doubt on which tree it landed on and tournament officials issued a statement to clarify the verdict .

Asked if Reed’s presence in the rankings spurred him on, McIlroy told Sky Sports: “Mental 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.

“I really had to focus, focus on myself, forget who was up there and I did that really, really well. I feel like I’ve consistently shown a lot of mental toughness out there, something I can really build on for the rest of the year.”

McIlroy started the day with a three-shot lead over playing partners Dan Bradbury and Callum Shinkwin, Reed had another shot back but the American shagged second and third before popping out of a green bunker on the sixth to close within a shot .

McIlroy followed eight straight pars with a much-needed birdie on the ninth to briefly double his lead, only for Reed to almost pot his second shot to the par-five ten for an albatross.

The tap-in eagle gave Reed part of the lead, and although McIlroy birdied the same hole with two putts, Reed also birdied the 11th hole to get back even.

Reed’s fifth birdie of the day on the par-5 13 put him in the lead for the first time, but echoing their epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, McIlroy responded with an excellent approach to the same hole and tapped in for a birdie after he had narrowly missed from 18 feet for Eagle.

McIlroy’s bogey on the 15th gave Reed the lead again, only for him to drop a shot immediately after an erratic drive on the 16th, and McIlroy took advantage with a birdie on the 17th to reclaim first place.

McIlroy’s drive on the 18th stopped just a foot from the water and he just caught his ball when Reed birdied two putts to give him the lead.

Effectively forced to hang up, McIlroy then hit a wedge 15 feet left of the pin and holed the putt before roaring with relief and glee.

Australia‘s Lucas Herbert carded a final 66 to finish under third at 16, while Shinkwin landed a shot down in fourth place after recovering from a nightmare start with six birdies in his last 12 holes.

After the round, Reed was asked if he saw the debate about his third-round incident on social media.

“I don’t really look at media or social media when I’m playing a tournament,” Reed said in quotes reported by Golf Digest. “It’s usually always negative, so I try to stay away from it.

“I heard about it but really all I can say is I looked through the binoculars, identified my golf ball and explained my markings to the rules officer. He looked and identified (the ball) just like me.

“The good thing is I know who I am. I can just focus on my golf and focus on myself.”

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