Rory McIlroy held off a brilliant challenge from Patrick Reed to win the Hero Dubai Desert Classic for a third time in dramatic circumstances.
McIlroy birdied the final two holes at Emirates Golf Club to card a closing 68 and finish 19 under par, a shot ahead of Reed in a first Monday finish in the tournament’s history which proved well worth the wait.
Playing in the group ahead of McIlroy, Reed had also birdied the 18th to complete a superb 65 and set the clubhouse target, but McIlroy was not to be denied a hard-fought win and holed from 15 feet on the last to cement his status as world number one.
“It means a lot,” McIlroy said. “It was a battle all day, it’s been a battle all week. I really feel 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 and there’s tonnes of room for improvement but it’s a great start to the year.”
McIlroy and Reed had begun the week embroiled in a war of words after Reed threw a tee towards McIlroy after being snubbed by him on the practice range.
McIlroy said he had not seen the tee but had not been impressed at being subpoenaed on Christmas Eve by the lawyer who is representing Reed in a defamation lawsuit against several media members and organisations, although McIlroy’s subpoena relates to a separate suit filed by Larry Klayman.
Reed began the day four shots off the lead but birdied the second and third before holing out from a greenside bunker on the sixth to close the gap to a single shot.
McIlroy followed eight straight pars with a much-needed birdie on the ninth to briefly double his lead, only for Reed to then almost hole his second shot to the par-five 10th for an albatross.
The tap-in eagle took Reed into a share of the lead and, although McIlroy two-putted the same hole for birdie, Reed also birdied the 11th to get back on level terms.
Reed’s fifth birdie of the day on the par-five 13th edged him into the outright lead for the first time, but, in echoes of their epic singles clash in the 2016 Ryder Cup, McIlroy responded with a superb approach to the same hole and tapped in for a birdie after narrowly missing from 18 feet for eagle.
McIlroy’s bogey on the 15th gifted Reed the lead again only for the American to promptly drop a shot on the 16th following a wayward drive and McIlroy took full advantage with a birdie on the 17th to reclaim top spot.
McIlroy’s drive on the 18th stopped just a foot short of the water and he reached his ball just as Reed two-putted for birdie to join him in the lead.
Effectively forced to lay up, McIlroy then hit a wedge to 15 feet left of the pin and holed the putt before letting out a roar of relief and delight.