Rory McIlroy hails mental strength after dramatic victory over Patrick Reed in Hero Dubai Desert Classic
Rory McIlroy birdied the final two holes at Emirates Golf Club to finish a shot ahead of LIV Golf's Patrick Reed in a first Monday finish in the tournament's history; world No 1's win is the first time he has started a calendar year with a victory
Last Updated: 31/01/23 6:11am
Rory McIlroy has paid tribute to his own mental strength after holding off a brilliant challenge from rival Patrick Reed to claim a dramatic Hero Dubai Desert Classic victory.
McIlroy took a three-shot lead into the final day at Emirates Golf Club, with Reed starting a further shot back, but the world No 1 needed to birdie his final two holes to card a closing 68 and finish a shot ahead of the American.
The pair had been embroiled in a war of words since footage emerged of Reed throwing a tee at the Northern Irishman on the practice range ahead of the event, although McIlroy said he had not seen the incident.
- McIlroy holds off rival Reed to win Dubai thriller
- Recap: How McIlroy beat Reed to Dubai victory
- Hero Dubai Desert Classic: Final leaderboard
The four-time major winner was subpoenaed on Christmas Eve by the lawyer who is representing Reed in a defamation lawsuit against several media members and organisations, although his relates to a separate suit, with McIlroy using it as motivation on his way to making a winning start to the year.
"I think mentally today was probably one of the toughest rounds I've ever had to play," McIlroy said immediately after his victory. "It would be really easy to let your emotions get in the way.
"I just had to really concentrate on focusing on myself and forget who was up there [Reed] on the leaderboard, and I did that really, really well. I feel like I showed a lot of mental strength out there today.
"I'm going to enjoy this. This is probably sweeter than it should be or needs to be, but I feel like I've still got some stuff to work on. You know, as I said, it's a great start to the year and a really good foundation to work from."
McIlroy opened with eight consecutive pars before making three birdies in a five-hole stretch from the ninth, although fell one behind when he failed to get up and down from the rough at the par-three 15th.
Reed bogeyed the next to slip back into a share of the lead but birdied the last to set the clubhouse target at 18 under, only for McIlroy to make a two-putt birdie from the fringe at the driveable 17th and then take advantage of the par-five last to claim a first DP World Tour title since 2019.
"It [victory] means a lot," McIlroy said. "It's actually funny, Harry [Diamond, his caddie] said to me 'finally we get a gold bib'. Obviously I haven't won one of these big ones [Rolex Series events] before.
"It was a battle all day. Honestly, it has been a battle all week. I really feel like I haven't had my best all week, but I just managed my game so well and played really smart. Just ecstatic that I gave myself an opportunity the first week back out. I definitely feel like there's tons of room for improvement, but it's a great start to the year."
McIlroy found the water on the 72nd hole of last year's tournament to miss out on victory and ended up in the hazard again during his third round on Sunday, reducing his lead from four strokes to three. This time he narrowly avoided the same fate with his final tee shot.
The ball stopped a foot short of the water and forced McIlroy to lay up, with the overnight leader then hitting a wedge to 15 feet left of the pin and holing the putt to seal victory in style.
"I feel like I got lucky that my ball didn't go in the water off the tee shot," McIlroy admitted. "It's such an awkward tee shot for me, as driver is too much and three-wood is not quite enough.
"So I tried to hit a sort of easy driver and it came out really, really hot. 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.
"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."