Rory McIlroy overcame a final charge from Patrick Reed to win the Dubai Desert Classic in a tense duel on Monday between players involved in a pre-tournament spat.
The top-ranked McIlroy threw a birdie putt about 15 feet on the 18th hole for a four-under 68 that put him one shot ahead of Reed, who shot 65.
McIlroy’s clutch putt on the 18th avoided a shoot-off against Reed and clinched the £1.23m prize for first place, £435,000 more than the sum offered for second.
Reed had been embroiled in controversy in yesterday’s third round at the Emirates Golf Club, after insisting he could see his ball lodged in a tree on the 17th despite TV footage showing the ball landing in a another tree.
McIlroy put all distractions aside as he won the title for the third time in his career. The win means he also started a year with a win, for the first time in his career.
“It means a lot,” McIlroy said. “It was a battle all day, it was a battle all week. I really feel like I haven’t done my best all week, but I managed my game so well and I played very smart.
“I’m just glad I gave myself an opportunity in the first week and there’s a lot of room for improvement, but it’s been a good start to the year.
McIlroy added: “Mentally today was probably one of the toughest rounds I’ve ever had 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 up in the standings and I did really, really well.”
The Northern Irishman started the round with a three shot lead – and four ahead of Reed – but was passed on the back nine by the American, who caught seven shots in his first 13 holes. Reed bugged 16 but birdied 18 to put pressure on McIlroy, who finished 19 under.
The pair had exchanged verbal jabs on Wednesday after an interaction on the training ground on Tuesday that saw McIlroy snub Reed, who had gone to wish the Northern Irishman a happy new year.
Reed walked away before teeing off, with a logo of his 4 Aces team in the LIV golf league, towards McIlroy, one of the most vocal critics of the Saudi breakaway series.
Reed said he was “unfortunate” that McIlroy did not shake his hand and was quoted as describing McIlroy as “an immature little kid”.