Tour Championship: Preview
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Rory McIlroy emerged victorious from his intense rivalry with Patrick Reed, banishing his 18th hole demons to win the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.
The DP World Tour couldn’t have written a more dramatic script. McIlroy, the most outspoken critic of LIV Golf, and Reed, who now plays on the Saudi-backed tour, were level at the top of the leaderboard after the American birdied the 72nd hole.
McIlroy looked on from the 18th fairway now needing a birdie to avoid a playoff against Reed who earlier in the week threw a tee in his direction on the driving range after the Northern Irishman appeared to ignore him.
Commenting on what became known as ‘Teegate’, Reed branded McIlroy an “immature little child”. McIlroy hit back by saying he “shouldn’t expect a handshake” after being served court papers at his Florida home by Reed’s lawyers on Christmas Eve as part of Reed’s defamation case against the PGA Tour among others.
Back on the fairway, McIlroy now had a decision to make: go for the green or lay up. In 2022, in a share of the lead, he went for the green and plunged his ball in the lake which cost him victory. This year he found the same lake again at this hole in round three.
With his ball awkwardly behind a tuft of grass having rolled off the fairway, he decided to lay up to leave himself around 100 yards with his wedge. He hit his third shot to around 15 feet from where he curled in a perfect putt for the birdie and the win.
McIlroy’s triumph at the Emirates Golf Club’s Majlis course marks the first time he has won his first tournament of a calendar year and sees him join Ernie Els as the only three-time winners of the Dubai Desert Classic. It was also his first Rolex Series title.
The win also cemented his place at the top of the world rankings despite Jon Rahm’s recent assertion that he was currently the best player in the world following his criticisms of the Official Golf World Ranking system.
“I felt like I could have let my emotions get in the way of what I was trying to do because of who was up there on the leaderboard,” McIlroy said. “I’m going to enjoy this. This is probably sweeter than it should be or needs to be.”
McIlroy’s wedge play last season went from being a weakness to a strength, taking him back to the top spot in the rankings. The four-time major winner is a TaylorMade staff player and finished last year with TaylorMade MG3 Raw wedges (46, 54, 60) in his bag. He renewed his deal with TaylorMade last year in what was announced as a multi-year extension.
But he has started this season by making a surprising change to his wedges for the Dubai Desert Classic. He has now switched them out for Titleist Vokey SM9‘s. McIlroy last had Vokey wedges in his bag in 2017 when he was an equipment free agent. Pro golfers are usually allowed to put a couple of competitor clubs in the bag without breaking contract. He has now also added the TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus fairway wood to his bag.
TaylorMade Stealth Plus (9 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Black 6X
TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (15 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Black 8X
TaylorMade Stealth Plus (19 degrees)
Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Black 9X
TaylorMade Rors Proto (3-PW)
Shaft: Project X 7.0
Titleist Vokey SM9 (54 S-Grind bent to 55 degrees & 58 proto K-grind bent to 59 degrees)
Shaft: Project X 6.5
TaylorMade Spider Hydro Blast
Grip: SuperStroke Traxion Pistol GT Tour