By Fatiha Betscher in Dubai.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy was at his brilliant best needing just seven shots to muscle his way into an eventual share of the lead with American Patrick Reed in the rain-interrupted Hero Dubai Desert Classic lead.
Players returned to the Emirates host course early on Friday for what was to be an 8am restart to play but after further overnight rain, that was delayed to 10am, and this after the Rolex Series event was initially delayed on Thursday by over six hours due to heavy rain that resulted in damage to many of the bunkers.
When poor light halted play, both McIlroy and Reed had three holes to play with McIlroy starting his round from the 10th hole of the course and Reed from the first.
McIlroy was two-under at the time and Reed at four-under.
It then meant McIlroy re-starting his round from the par-3 seventh hole and Reed from the short par-4 16th, and with McIlroy moving to three-under with a birdie before sensationally holing a 116-yard gap-wedge shot from the sand for a ‘2’ at the famed uphill par-4 eighth with it’s ever-changing but stunning Dubai skyline backdrop.
The eagle sent McIlroy soaring to five-under and a shot clear of Reed, who had pared both the 16th and 17th holes.
McIlroy arrived at the ninth hole and his 18th, sending his drive 309-yards down the right side of the fairway and into the rough ahead of landing his 160-yard second shot to four-foot, holing the putt in a round of 66.
For McIlroy that’s three holes, recording an eagle and two birdies – just seven shots in three holes.
“I struggled out there most of yesterday. I thought I did well to be under par by the end of the day. I fought back after some very sloppy rusty golf over the first sort of 14 holes,” he said.
“And then yeah, today I came out and I don’t really know if anything clicked because I don’t think I hit enough shots to know. But it was definitely needed. Like I would have been happy with anything around 70 the way I played, and then to come in and shoot 66 is quite the bonus.”
Then in describing his eagle ‘3’ on the eighth hole, McIlroy said: “I wouldn’t say I’m the best fairway bunker player in the world. The desert is a little nicer, it’s a little more packed down, so you get some better lies.
“All I was thinking about was catching it clean. My tendency out of those lies is to hit it a little bit heavy. As soon as I struck it, I knew it came out really nicely and it was right down the pin. Again, anything inside of 20 feet, I would have been happy with, so that was certainly a bonus.”
As McIlroy was putting out at the ninth, Reed was on the close-by 18th having played a super drive over the trees to the fairway, and lying 230-yards from the flag. The former Masters champ easily cleared the water guarding the green, landing his second shot to some 15-feet shy of the flag ahead of holing the eagle ‘3’ putt.
Last week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC winning hero Victor Perez and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters were next best at five-under.
- Full scoring HERE