Rory McIlroy makes his first start of the year in this week's Dubai Desert Classic alongside several LIV Golf players.
Before the action even gets under way, though, there has been some tension between the Northern Irishman and LIV player Patrick Reed, after McIlroy declined to acknowledge a handshake from the American, resulting in Reed reportedly throwing a tee in his direction.
Speaking to the media ahead of the tournament, McIlroy first attempted to play down the incident, saying: “Patrick came up to say hello and I didn't really want him to. From my recollection, that was it. I didn't see a tee. I didn't feel a tee. Obviously someone else saw that. But it's definitely a storm in a teacup. Obviously nothing - I can't believe it's actually turned into a story. Yeah, it's nothing.”
However, he then revealed the reason he didn't acknowledge Reed was at least partly due to an unwelcome early Christmas present from Reed's law firm Klayman Law Group amid the ongoing PGA Tour vs LIV court case. He said: “I was subpoenaed by his lawyer on Christmas Eve. So of course, trying to have a nice time with my family and someone shows up on your doorstep and delivers that, you're not going to take that well. So again, I'm living in reality, I don't know where he's living. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn't expect a hello or a handshake.”
Speaking to the Mail's Chief Sports Feature Writer Riath Al-Samarrai (opens in new tab),Reed has said the subpoena was "nothing to do with me," as it's related to the wider PGA Tour vs LIV case, where Klayman Law Group is acting on behalf of LIV Golf, and not his $820m defamation case against the likes of Brandel Chamblee, the Golf Channel and others.
Reed had his own take on the incident, too, telling the Mail: "I walked over there and wished Harry (Diamond, McIlroy’s caddie) Happy New Year and then Rory because it is the first time I have seen them. Harry shook my hand and Rory just looked down there and was messing with his Trackman and kind of decided to ignore us. We all know where it came from, being part of LIV.
"Since my tees are Team Aces LIV tees I flicked him one. It was kind of a funny shot back. Funny how a small little flick has turned into basically me stabbing him and throwing a tee at him. He saw me and he decided not to not to react. But it is one of those things. If you're going to act like an immature little child then you might as well be treated like one."
The damage of the ongoing legal tussle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour clearly runs deep for McIlroy. The 33-year-old also revealed that he sees no way back for his friendship with another LIV Golf player, Sergio Garcia. The four-time Major winner was asked if there was hope for rekindling their friendship, particularly as they could potentially still line up in the same Ryder Cup team later in the year. His answer was succinct: “No.”
With 2023 set to be another year of controversy for the game, McIlroy will doubtless be keen to temporarily put off-course issues to one side and play his first tournament since November’s DP World Tour Championship in the same city.
In last year’s Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy missed out on a playoff spot when he heartbreakingly found water on the last hole, and he explained that finish has left him some demons to lay to rest. He said: “It's really nice to be back. You know, I've had a lot of great memories here and success over the years at the Emirates but feel like I have a little bit of unfinished business with how the tournament ended for me last year here.”
With Jon Rahm breathing down his neck in the world rankings and hoping to reclaim the World No.1 spot, McIlroy will be desperate to do just that – well away from the off-course distractions.
Mike has over 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on a range of sports throughout that time, such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance staff writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the game's most newsworthy stories.
He has written hundreds of articles on the game, from features offering insights into how members of the public can play some of the world's most revered courses, to breaking news stories affecting everything from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to developmental Tours and the amateur game.
Mike grew up in East Yorkshire and began his career in journalism in 1997. He then moved to London in 2003 as his career flourished, and nowadays resides in New Brunswick, Canada, where he and his wife raise their young family less than a mile from his local course.
Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.
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