Rory McIlroy made a 14-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to win the Hero Dubai Desert Classic and avoid a playoff with nemesis Patrick Reed.
The two men battled for the lead throughout the back nine in the weather-delayed Monday finish at the Emirates Golf Club. Reed tied McIlroy at the top with a birdie on the par-5 18th and McIlroy – playing one group behind – matched him to finish at 19 under, one clear. McIlroy shot 68 in the finale, to Reed's 65.
"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. I just had to really concentrate on focusing on myself. Forget who was up there on the leaderboard. And I did that really, really well. I feel like I showed a lot of mental strength out there today," McIlroy said after his round.
It was a dramatic finish to a long, contentious week in the desert, heightened by the rivalry between the sport's traditional tours and LIV Golf. On Tuesday, McIlroy and Reed were embroiled in "Tee-gate," in which McIlroy refused to acknowledge Reed on the range, with Reed responding by tossing his LIV team tee in McIlroy's direction.
Verbal jousting continued a day later, with Reed referring to McIlroy as "an immature little child," and McIlroy revealing that he had been served a subpoena on Christmas Eve by Reed's lawyer, Larry Klayman. The subpoena was in relation to a lawsuit Klayman has filed against the DP World Tour and PGA Tour for suspending LIV players. Though Reed isn't involved in that lawsuit, the connection was enough to further stoke the flames.
As a six-hour weather delay to start the tournament eventually pushed it to a Monday conclusion, there was more controversy on Sunday. Reed's tee shot on the 17th hole appeared to get caught in a palm tree. He identified his ball by using binoculars, but it wasn't clear in TV replays if that was the tree in which Reed's ball had gotten stuck.
Regardless, Reed entered the final round four back of McIlroy, who had three birdies to no bogeys over his first 13 holes on Monday.
Reed, however, birdied three of his first six holes, added an eagle at the par-5 10th and made two more birdies at Nos. 11 and 13.
Reed twice led on the back nine. First, when he birdied the 13th, before McIlroy did the same to match him at 18 under. The second time occurred when McIlroy bogeyed the par-3 15th to drop to minus-17, but Reed quickly responded with a bogey of his own at the 16th – to some noticeable applause from the gallery.
Knotted with two holes of regulation remaining, Reed was unable to capitalize at the 343-yard, par-4 17th. He blew his drive right, into the desert sand and then ran his second shot through the green. The former Masters champ managed to get up and down for par, converting a 6-footer for the save.
McIlroy, meanwhile, hit his tee shot just shy of the putting surface at No. 17. Using a putter, he lagged from 81 feet to 4 feet and converted the birdie to regain the top spot with one hole to play.
As McIlroy waited on the tee box to play the par-5 18th, Reed hit his second from 231 yards to the back of the green, 35 feet from the pin. McIlroy responded by using driver off the tee, but it proved too much. His ball ran through the fairway and into the thick rough guarding the water, feet shy of the hazard.
Reed two-putted for birdie to tie McIlroy and enter the clubhouse at 18 under par. McIlroy then laid up with his second shot, avoiding what happened a year ago when he hit his second into the water on No. 18 in losing by a shot.
This time, he would have to make birdie from 93 yards to win.
McIlroy placed his third shot to 14 feet and had that for the outright win. He made it and calmly raised his right arm with a fist, before a release of emotions and an embrace with his caddie, Harry Diamond.
"Honestly, I feel like I got lucky that my ball didn't go in the water off the tee shot. It's such an awkward tee shot for me. Driver is too much and 3-wood is not quite enough. So tried to hit a sort of easy driver and it came out really, really hot, and you know, I was lucky for it not to go in the water but I really only had one choice. I needed to lay up and try to get up-and-down that way," McIlroy explained.
"I said yesterday, with the two balls in the water on Sunday last year and then yesterday, fool me once, shame on me, and fool me twice – I wasn't going to get fooled a third time. It was nice to be able to play the percentages and make it pay off."
It's McIlroy's third win in this event, dating back to his first professional victory in 2009.