Hits and misses from an enthralling Hero Dubai Desert Classic 2023

Rory McIlroy kept his cool to lift the Dallah Trophy for the third time after rain caused havoc

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It was an unforgettable week at the rain-affected Hero Dubai Desert Classic. Here are some of the highlights – and low points.

Champion: Rory McIlroy

All the perceived bad guys seemed to be ganging up on the DP World Tour’s leading player and its shining beacon.

At various times, LIV Golf members Patrick Reed, Ian Poulter, Richard Bland, and Henrik Stenson were all within sight of McIlroy in the final throes of an all-time classic Classic.

He required nerves of steel to see off the challenge of Reed over a thrilling final 18, culminating in a 14-and-half footer for birdie to give him the Dallah Trophy for the third time.

“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,” he said immediately after draining the winning putt.

“I just had to really concentrate on focusing on myself, and forget who was up there on the leaderboard. I did that really, really well.”

They said it

“No." - McIlroy when asked on the eve of the tournament if it is likely bridges between him and Sergio Garcia could be mended anytime soon. Keith Pelley, the DP World Tour chief executive, recently raised the possibility of Garcia being picked for Europe’s Ryder Cup side by captain Luke Donald. McIlroy revealed last month he had been told to shut up with his opinions about LIV Golf by the Spaniard.

“It’s unfortunate because we’ve always had a good relationship. But it is one of those things. If you’re going to act like an immature little child then you might as well be treated like one.” - Patrick Reed explained why he tossed a tee in McIlroy’s direction after the world No 1 blanked him at the range on Tuesday.

“To see my surname and his surname together in the leaderboard was pretty cool. That's why I made bogey, to be close to him.” - Angel Hidalgo, the 24-year-old Spanish rookie, finished Round 1 on the same score – 6-under par – as McIlroy. He said the idea of playing in the same group as him was a thrill.

“Two on course referees and several marshals identified that Patrick Reed’s ball had become lodged in a specific tree following his tee shot on 17. The DP World Tour chief referee joined the player in the area and asked him to identify his distinctive ball markings. Using binoculars, the chief referee was satisfied that a ball with those markings was lodged in the tree.” - The organisers issued a statement to clarify why Reed did not have to return to the tee to play his third shot at 17 in Round 3, after broadcast footage suggested he might have been barking up the wrong palm tree.

Best shots

Ryan Fox, Day 1, Hole 7, first shot

Just before the horn blew for the close of play on a curtailed first day, McIlroy arrowed his tee shot at the par-3 7th to within four feet.

Fox followed him, and went even closer. From the tee, it must have looked like an ace was incoming. It ended a foot shy, but earned him a fist bump from McIlroy nonetheless.

McIlroy, Day 2 (Round 1), Hole 8, first shot

Eagles at the par-4 8th are as rare as snowmen on Jumeirah Beach. There were few clues that one was in the offing as the world No 1 walked into the wasteland to find his ball.

With 116 yards to the hole, he picked his 54-degree wedge from his bag, choked down the grip – and promptly holed it. He was welcomed to the green by chants of “Easy! Easy!”

Reed, Day 5 (Round 4), Hole 6, third shot

McIlroy started People’s Monday four strokes ahead of Reed, but made a flat start. Reed, meantime, was burning up the course.

He was breathing down his rival’s neck when he holed exquisitely from the bunker at the tough par-4 6th for birdie. McIlroy, playing in the following group, struck his next shot to almost exactly where Reed had hit from, but had to settle for par.

Reed, Day 5 (Round 4), Hole 10, second shot

After eight pars to start his final round, McIlroy had finally sunk a birdie putt at the 9th to extend his lead over Reed to two strokes, just as the American was walking to address his second at the 10th.

His response was sensational, as his 245-yard approach shaved the hole for what would have been an albatross. His tap-in eagle tied the lead.

McIlroy, Day 5 (Round 4), Hole 18, second shot

Laying up goes against everything McIlroy believes in. Well, he almost never does it at 18 at the Majlis, anyway. And he only had a piffling 196 yards to get it onto the green from where he had driven to.

But he was on the hazard line, and hitting from the rough. Birdie would give him the tournament, par would be enough for a playoff. He opted to lob it down the fairway, chipped from there to 15 feet, and holed for the title.

Worst shots

Reed, Tuesday, the range

The American tossed one of his Team Aces LIV tee pegs at McIlroy after the world No 1 blanked him at the range two days ahead of the scheduled start. So errant was his aim, McIlroy said he did not even see it.

Francesco Molinari, Day 1, Hole 1, first shot

The Italian had his hopes of playing himself into contention for a place in a home Ryder Cup buoyed by an improved showing in Abu Dhabi last week.

His good mood will have dissipated immediately after his first blow of the Classic. His tee shot at the first nearly found the driving range, so far left did he pull it. It settled between two of the new, rain-induced water hazards.

He ended up with a double-bogey, rarely got going thereafter, and ended up missing the cut.

Nicolai Hojgaard, Day 3 (Round 2), Hole 18, second shot

Accepted wisdom has it that the par-5 18th plays easier during the Classic than it does the rest of the year. Based on the fact the players can use the hospitality boxes as a backboard if they are shooting ambitious approaches in from distance.

But Hojgaard’s miss with his second at the end of Round 2 was comically wide – ending up more or less pin high, but amongst the corporate guests on the second tier. He ended with par.

McIlroy, Day 4 (Round 3), Hole 18, second shot

McIlroy, the 18th green at the Majlis, and Sundays at the Desert Classic are an ill-starred love triangle. The Northern Irishman just cannot help himself but try to make a play.

In 2022, it cost him the tournament when he fired his long approach into the water guarding the final green. He did the same this Sunday, too, but at least he still had a day to atone.

Updated: January 31, 2023, 2:41 AM