McIlroy Admits Dubai Win One Of 'Toughest Rounds I've Ever Had To Play' Amid Reed Controversy

The World No.1 saw off the challenge of Patrick Reed to claim his third Dubai Desert Classic victory

Rory McIlroy with the trophy after winning the 2023 Dubai Desert Classic
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy won the Dubai Desert Classic for the third time to get his year off to the perfect start. However, he admits it was far from plain sailing.

McIlroy held off Patrick Reed with a birdie to finish with a 69 for a one-shot victory. After securing prize money of $1.53m with his first Rolex Series win, McIlroy said: "Mentally it was very tough today. 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."

Aside from needing to see off the challenge of LIV Golf player Reed, who McIlroy blanked in the build-up to the tournament, the Northern Irishman also had memories of last year’s closing hole when he missed the chance of reaching a playoff after finding the water - something he also did in the third round this year. Those factors, combined with the rustiness of playing his first event since November, made it an especially hard tournament for the 33-year-old.

He explained: "I think mentally today was probably one of the toughest rounds I've ever had to play because it would be really easy to let your emotions get in the way and I just had to really concentrate on focusing on myself. Forget who was up there on the leaderboard, and I did that really, really well. I feel like I showed a lot of mental strength out there today, and again, something to really build on for the rest of the year.”

Despite not being on top of his game, McIlroy emerged from his first challenge of the year with flying colours. There was even a chance he could have surrendered his position at the top of the world ranking to Jon Rahm. Instead, he cemented his place at the summit. McIlroy also vowed to work on his game - an ominous sign for his rivals for the top spot.

He said: “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.”

McIlroy’s next appearance will be in the second elevated event on the PGA Tour schedule, next week’s WM Phoenix Open. Considering how well he overcame the pressure to win in Dubai, he will be confident of following that up with victory at TPC Scottsdale.

Mike Hall

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.