The rain might have left the Emirates Golf Club as soggy as a wet day in the midlands, but the sponsors must be licking their lips with Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed locked together ahead of a Monday finish to the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.
Golf’s bitter civil war has added some extra spice to a weather-delayed Rolex Series event with McIlroy and Reed eventually completing six-under 66s in the delayed first round before ending the day just two shots behind LIV Golf rebels Ian Poulter and Richard Bland.
“We can go on until Tuesday next week if we have to,” McIlroy told reporters after spectacularly rounding off his rain-delayed first round with a birdie-eagle-birdie finish. “I’m a fan of 72-hole golf, as you know.”
His good-natured jibe at LIV Golf’s 54-hole format was a reflection of his delight at needing just six shots to get to the clubhouse.
While the resumption of play was delayed by another two hours yesterday following Thursday’s six-hour rain delay, McIlroy lifted the gloom in typical swashbuckling fashion.
After tapping in from less than four feet for a two at the seventh, he carved his tee-shots right at the eighth and ninth but holed out from 116 yards from desert wasteland for an eagle two at the former before gouging a 160-yard approach to three feet from thick rough at the latter (the toughest hole on the course) to get in on six-under.
“I’m usually the master of turning a 66 into a 70,” McIlroy said. “But that was the other way around. Look, the score glosses over the golf that I’ve played. There’s no way I should be six-under. I feel lucky because I could have been at least four or five shots worse.”
Reed would finish par-eagle on the other side of the course to match McIlroy’s 66 and while there is still the second round to finish today, there’s a chance they could be paired together over the weekend in a sporting extension of their Tee-gate contretemps earlier this week.
McIlroy studiously ignored Reed, whose lawyer has subpoenaed him in a case against the PGA Tour, and the Texan derisively tossed a LIV-branded tee in McIlroy’s direction before stalking off and later labelling him “an immature little child.”
“Ironically, the first person I saw yesterday morning was Patrick Reed,” McIlroy said. “Look, it’s all fine. It’s been blown out of proportion. And you know, once the golf starts, we cannot focus on all that nonsense but on the pars and birdies.”
He added: “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. 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.”
Poulter chipped in at the ninth to open with a seven-under 65 for a share of the first-round lead with world amateur No 1 Ludvig Aberg of Sweden.
In the end, Bland (49) opened his second round with three birdies and was eight-under through four holes and tied with Poulter (47), who picked up a shot at the third before play was eventually suspended.
They were on stroke clear of Spain’s Angel Hidalgo with McIlroy and Reed tied for fourth alongside South Africa’s Louis de Jager.
Shane Lowry struggled on the greens at times but carded an opening 70 before playing five holes in round two in one-under.
He was tied 22nd on three-under, just five shots off the lead, but the cut looms for Tom McKibbin and Pádraig Harrington.
While McKibbin is tied for 106th on two-over, Harrington followed a birdie at the fifth with two closing bogeys to sign for a nine-over 81, ranked last for approach play and fourth last for putting.
The third round is scheduled for tomorrow with the final round now set for Monday.