Thunder, lightning and floods add to Rory McIlroy's stormy Dubai Desert Classic opening

Round 1 at Emirates Golf Club disrupted by adverse weather and course damage

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When Rory McIlroy described his tee-peg spat with Patrick Reed on Tuesday as a storm in a teacup, he could have done with something to offer some perspective.

The elements were only happy to oblige on Wednesday night, providing the sort of deluge that really was worthy of the name. In the early hours of Thursday, there was even thunder and lightning to go with it.

It left the Emirates Golf Club staff faced with one mighty task to get the course suitable for play to start in Round 1 of the 2023 Hero Dubai Desert Classic.

Roads surrounding the course were impassable, meaning the public could not come and watch. Players were kept away from the course altogether until around midday.

Greenkeepers had to drain standing water from areas which had scarcely seen moisture ever before. After all, in the previous 33 years of the Dubai Desert Classic, more time had been lost to wind and fog than rain.

Back in 2017, play was halted on the opening day of the tournament because high winds brought down trees, and might have endangered spectators had the organisers not acted swiftly to evacuate the Majlis Course.

The heavy rainfall of Wednesday night did not have quite such a dramatic impact. But staff did have to act to repair damage, too, including a collapsed face of a bunker next to the first fairway.

How they got it playable within around six hours, with scarcely a scar, just a tell-tale white line to mark ground under repair, was remarkable.

All of which brought the attention back to the competition, rather than who threw what at whom, and who-subpoenaed whom and when.

For which McIlroy himself seemed glad enough. When he greeted his playing partners at the 10th, he seemed relieved to be getting his 2023 season under way, albeit belatedly.

His match was a treat. Given the circumstances, it was a pity that only a lucky few got the chance to tramp the soggy course with such a stellar crew as the world No1, plus Tommy Fleetwood and Ryan Fox.

It started with McIlroy and Fleetwood following each other into one of the Majlis’ many new water hazards. They each found the same puddle on the wasteland to the right of the 10th fairway, but both finished the hole with birdies.

It ended happily, too. Just before the horn blew in the fading light of the evening, McIlroy fired his tee shot at the 7th to inside four feet. And Fox followed him to within a foot, which would have looked like an incoming ace from the tee-box.

The New Zealander opted to tap his in, to take him to 3-under. McIlroy marked his ball overnight, and will head straight to it to finish off at 8am on Friday, hoping to join Fox on 3-under.

They are two shots off the lead, held by Thomas Pieters, who reached 5-under in the 15 holes he completed on Thursday.

“I think it played fair,” Pieters said of the novel challenge of a sodden Majlis.

“Obviously they guarded against some of the conditions, and they moved a few tees forward on holes like [the par-4 12th], where you normally are hitting long irons, and you're hitting short wedges.

“If you found fairways and had ball-in-hand, it was definitely playable.”

Updated: January 26, 2023, 5:39 PM