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

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

Reed and McIlroy’s rivalry came to life at the 2016 Ryder Cup, with the American winning their singles 1UP

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

“Why don’t we play four rounds?” was McIlroy’s response. But it was in front of an extremely tense final course 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 shots after 54 holes.

It was an excellent advertisement for 72 holes of golf. “That’s what we’ve always done,” McIlroy added. “Seventy-two holes of golf is championship golf and that’s how it should be.”

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

If there was one person McIlroy didn’t want to lose to this, it was 2018 Masters champion Reed, who now wears a LIV Golf cap – Roman numerals for 54, the number of holes played in each event on the controversial breakout tour where he play now his trade.

The Dubai week began with McIlroy opening up to Reed on the driving range after the American star’s lawyer served him with a subpoena on Christmas Eve. Reed threw 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 golfer Reed called a “petulant child”.

There remains genuine animosity, not even the bred-in kind we see before so many boxing fights.

And these are two golf heavyweights. They traded like gladiators in their epic 2016 Ryder Cup matchup that thrashed Reed. The Texan delivered the knockouts again when McIlroy had to sign his revolving card at the Masters two years later.

And what a spectacle they put on on a stunning final day here in Dubai in the desert sun. This was the European Tour at its very best, serving up compelling drama and suspense until the final blow of a long week.

It certainly raises the question of whether the DP World Tour really wants to win its arbitration hearing against LIV players like Reed next week. Success could mean banishing the so-called LIV rebels from the Wentworth-based circuit.

“You could argue we would be weaker without them,” a stalwart of the DP World Tournament told me last week. “We can have people like DJ (Dustin Johnson), Bryson DeChambeau and Reed play here and that will be great for us.

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

The tour argues it protects its members and the right to punish players who did not comply with exemption decisions, which tried to prevent them from playing LIV tournaments last year.

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

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

Is the tour barking up the wrong tree by trying to oust him and his other Saudi Arabia paid colleagues?

Rory McIlroy explains why he throttled Patrick Reed in Dubai

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

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

Poulter delighted his fans with a strong performance, the enduring Richard Bland was also prominent, while we had the delightful 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 live rent-free in each other’s heads. It was great sport.

McIlroy was made to dig much deeper than would otherwise have been the case. His win was all the more worthwhile as a result and a perfect retort for Jon Rahm who was pushing for the world number one spot in the US.

Indeed, the golf year could hardly have started in a more captivating way.

The ongoing politics of the game may interfere, but let’s hope this Dubai Desert Classic sets a dramatic template for the rest of the year to follow.

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