McIlroy: I had to work really hard to forget about Reed and focus on myself

Ronan MacNamara

Rory McIlroy poses with the 'Dalah' trophy after the final round in Dubai (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy was proud of how he handled himself down the stretch to win the Hero Dubai Desert Classic as he held off a final round charge from Patrick Reed to win the event for the third time and collect his first Rolex Series title.

Teeing off with a three-shot lead and four ahead of Reed, the man all the drama surrounded at the beginning of the week, McIlroy saw the American overtake him with a birdie on 13 in the final round.

The Holywood native recovered from that with a birdie on the same hole and after dropping a shot on the par-3 15th, he regained his composure to birdie 17 and 18 to pip Reed by one.

“I had to work really hard to forget about who was up there and just try to focus on myself. I sort of had to bottle everything up today, and then was finally able to let it all out on the 18th green,” said a relieved McIlroy.

McIlroy and Reed have had a simmering rivalry on the course over the last seven years, but in recent months it has boiled over off the course with several verbal spats. Their row reached breaking point over the winter when Reed’s lawyer served Rory with a Christmas Eve subpoena before McIlroy ignored him on the practice tee pre-tournament.

Undoubtedly the LIV situation has lit the fire in the belly of McIlroy over the last twelve months but going toe to toe with a LIV rebel, and Reed of all people, was a mental hurdle he was delighted to overcome.

“Obviously I felt them closing in, and obviously on the back nine when Patrick sort of drew level with me, I really needed to dig deep. I thought I had sort of blown my chance with the bogey on 15. But thankfully, he bogeyed 16, and then I played a great last couple of holes, great tee shot on 17, good 2-putt and got up-and-down at the last.

“Mentally it was very tough today. Like I felt like I could have let my emotions get in the way. I expended a lot of mental energy today trying to focus on myself and focus on shooting a score and trying to reach a number.

“I sort of set myself a target of 20-under at the start of the day. That obviously would have been good enough; 19 was enough in the end. I thought I did really well mentally today. I didn’t have my best tough today. I didn’t have my best stuff all week. But I managed my game well and being able to putt it in good spots and get up-and-down when I needed to. So yeah, like overall, it’s been a pretty draining week as the first week back out. But obviously ecstatic to get the win.”

The four-time major champion was far from his best this week in his first tournament of the season but some blistering bursts maintained his challenge throughout the event with some clutch up and downs keeping the mistakes to a minimum – dropping just five shots all week – in what he described as one of his best short game displays highlighted by a wedge, wedge and putt birdie to win on 18.

“I think the way I managed my game week, I think the short game display that I put on this week was as good as I can remember. Some things I need to tidy up with the long game but overall, if I can win golf tournaments of this calibre not having my best stuff, it gives me a lot confidence going forward.”

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