Rory McIlroy retains Dubai Invitational lead despite eighth hole meltdown

Northern Irishman leads by two shots at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 12: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland shakes hands with Ryan Fox of New Zealand on the 18th green on Day Two of the Dubai Invitational at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club on January 12, 2024 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Alex Burstow / Getty Images)
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Rory McIlroy retained the lead at the end of the second day of the Dubai Invitational, despite one remarkable aberration on Friday.

The Northern Irishman’s game has been in fine working order on his first outing of the season on the DP World Tour.

He has been in chipper mood, trading high fives with his playing partners, and has generally cut a relaxed figure in the confines of the pro-am format.

Even when the wheels came off in dramatic fashion. Across 35 of the 36 holes he has played so far at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, he has shot 14 birdies.

His standards dropped on just one hole – and that cost him a quadruple-bogey four at the par-3 eighth. He was short, left, and in the water with his tee shot.

At least his shot from the drop zone made it as far as the green, only for that, too, to dribble back and flop into the water. He ended up signing for a seven.

Normal service was quickly restored. He birdied the 10th, added two more before the close, and ended the day with a two-shot lead ahead of Jeff Winther, at 10-under par.

“I think if I look at the other 17 holes that I played, I played very, very well again,” McIlroy said.

“I hit some good iron shots, and played not too dissimilarly to the way I played yesterday [when he fired a 9-under par 62]. I maybe holed a couple more putts yesterday. But the conditions were getting a little trickier.

“I felt like I did well just to get my head back into it and play some solid golf on the way in, and everyone seemed to find it a little more difficult today than yesterday. It’s nice to go into the weekend still with the lead.”

Because of the format of a tournament which is set to feature on the tour every other year, some news that would usually be regarded as being beyond the course actually made its way inside the ropes on Friday.

The previous evening, Keith Pelley announced he would be stepping down as the Tour’s chief executive in April. The 60-year-old has overseen a time of significant change in the sport during eight and a half years in the role.

Pelley is among the field of 60 amateur players in action at the Creek. He is leaving to become the president and CEO of the management company in charge of ice hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs, basketball’s Toronto Raptors, and the football team Toronto FC.

“I'm happy for him,” McIlroy said. “I think the job he's going to is one that he's probably wanted for a long, long time.

“Being from Canada, especially Toronto and be able to run two major sports in Toronto, the hockey team and the basketball team, I think is a wonderful opportunity for Keith.”

Updated: January 12, 2024, 2:02 PM