Rory McIlroy overcame a last-round attack from Patrick Reed to win the Dubai Desert Classic in a tense Monday clash between players who feuded ahead of the tournament.
Top-ranked McIlroy rolled in a birdie putt from about 15 yards out on the 18th hole for a four-under 68, putting him one stroke away from Reed, who shot 65.
McIlroy’s clutch putt on 18th avoided a play-off against Reed and won the £1.23 million prize for first place, £435,000 more than the bid for runners-up.
Reed was embroiled in controversy during yesterday’s third round at the Emirates Golf Club after insisting he could see his ball stuck in a tree on the 17th, despite television footage showing the ball hitting another tree landed.
McIlroy put aside all distractions as he clinched the title for the third time in his career. Victory means that for the first time in his career he also started a year with a win.
“It means a lot,” McIlroy said. “It’s been a battle all day, it’s been a battle all week. I really feel like I haven’t tried my best all week, but I managed my game so well and played really smart.
“I’m just ecstatic that I gave myself a chance the first week and there’s a huge amount of room for improvement, but it’s a great start to the year.
McIlroy added: “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 and I really had to focus on myself, forget who was going on there on the leaderboard and I did a really, really good job at that.
The Northern Irishman started the round with a three-shot lead – and was four shots ahead of Reed – but was overtaken on the back nine by the American, who took seven shots in his opening 13 holes. Reed bogeyed 16 but birdie on 18 to put pressure on McIlroy, who finished 19 under overall.
The pair had exchanged verbal blows on Wednesday after an interaction on the practice range on Tuesday in which McIlroy snubbed Reed, who had gone to wish the Northern Irishman a happy new year.
Reed walked off before throwing a tee, bearing a logo of his 4 Aces team in the LIV Golf competition, towards McIlroy, one of the most outspoken critics of the Saudi-led breakout streak.
Reed said it was a “shame” McIlroy didn’t shake his hand and was quoted as describing McIlroy as “an immature little kid”.