‘Rory McIlroy-Patrick Reed needle and niggle fuels Dubai drama’

'Rory McIlroy-Patrick Reed needle and niggle fuels Dubai drama', Golf, sport

When DP World Tour boss Keith Pelley called Rory McIlroy last Friday afternoon to tell him the Hero Dubai Desert Classic would run into a fifth day, the world number one readily agreed the rain-affected event should go the distance.

“Why would we not play four rounds?” was McIlroy’s reaction. But that was before an excruciatingly tense final circuit where he finally edged out his great rival Patrick Reed with birdies on the last two holes.

“In the middle of the back nine, I’m like, maybe I should have said three rounds,” laughed the champion who led by three strokes after 54 holes.

This was a supreme advertisement for 72-hole golf. “It’s what we have always done,” McIlroy added. “Seventy-two hole golf is championship golf and that’s the way it should be.”

Adding to the spectacle was the fact that this had niggle and needle as well as golfing drama.

If there was one person McIlroy did not want to lose to it was the 2018 Masters champion Reed, who now dons a LIV Golf cap – Roman numerals for 54, the number of holes played in each event on the controversial breakaway tour where he now plies his trade.

The Dubai week had started with McIlroy blanking Reed on the practice range because the US star’s lawyer had served him with a subpoena on Christmas Eve. Reed tossed a LIV branded tee in the Northern Irishman’s direction and ‘tee-gate’ was born.

Rarely does sport follow the desired script as well as this extraordinary tournament did. Everyone wanted to see the man McIlroy accused of not living “in reality” against the golfer Reed called a “petulant child”.

There remains genuine animosity, not even the trumped up sort we see ahead of so many boxing bouts.

And these are two golfing heavyweights. They traded like gladiators in their epic 2016 Ryder Cup match which Reed edged. The Texan again delivered the knockout blows when McIlroy had to sign his winning scorecard at the Masters two years later.

And what a spectacle they delivered in the desert sun on an astonishing final day here in Dubai. This was the European tour at its very best, serving up captivating drama and tension until the final stroke of an extended week.

This surely begs a question over whether the DP World Tour really wants to win its arbitration hearing against LIV players such as Reed next week. Success could mean the so called LIV rebels being banished from the Wentworth-based circuit.

“You could argue we would be weaker without them,” a DP World Tour stalwart told me last week. “We could have the likes of DJ (Dustin Johnson), Bryson DeChambeau and Reed playing over here and that would be great for us.

“And people still love to see Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and co.”

The tour argues it is protecting its members and the right to punish players who have not abided by waiver decisions which sought to prevent them playing LIV tournaments last year.

But it surely has to look at the way Reed injected so much interest into the Dubai tournament.

Golf’s bad boy was also embroiled in another rules controversy with suggestions he identified his ball stuck high up in the wrong Palm tree on the 17th hole of his third round. He generates interest wherever he goes and remains a tremendous competitor.

Are the tour barking up the wrong tree by seeking to oust him and his other Saudi Arabia remunerated colleagues?

Of course the tour has to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the PGA Tour because the two share in a strategic alliance. The DP World Tour’s legal team will fight hard in the Sporting Resolutions hearing in London from 6-10 February.

Pelley’s tour wants to win, no doubt, but Dubai also showed it would be a shame to lose some of the circuit’s most enduring characters.

Poulter delighted his fans with a strong showing, the enduring Richard Bland was also prominent, while we had the delicious pairing of Henrik Stenson and the man who replaced him as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald in the third round.

Alas McIlroy and Reed avoided each other, even though both were living rent free in each other’s heads. It was great sport.

McIlroy was made to dig far deeper than otherwise would have been the case. His victory was all the more worthwhile as a result and a perfect riposte to Jon Rahm who has been in the US exerting pressure for the world number one spot.

Indeed, the golfing year could hardly have begun in a more captivating way.

The ongoing politics of the game might interfere, but let us hope this Dubai Desert Classic set a dramatic template for the rest of the year to follow.

Leave a Reply