Brilliant finishes from Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed raised the tantalising prospect of a showdown between the pair as the Hero Dubai Desert Classic headed for a Monday finish.
Following a second delay of the week due to flooding at Emirates Golf Club, McIlroy returned to the course on Friday facing a short birdie putt on the par-three seventh, his 16th hole.
The world number one calmly converted from four feet, then holed out from a fairway bunker on the eighth for an unlikely eagle and rounded off his morning’s work in style with another birdie on the difficult ninth.
That gave the two-time winner a six-under-par 66 which was matched by Reed, the former Masters champion finishing on the other side of the course by holing from 15 feet for eagle on the par-five 18th.
Rory starts the day with a hole-out eagle 🤩 #HeroDDC | #RolexSeries pic.twitter.com/SyPuvjrOIT
— DP World Tour (@DPWorldTour) January 27, 2023
By the time the first round was belatedly concluded, McIlroy and Reed found themselves a shot behind world number one amateur Ludvig Aberg and Ian Poulter, who both shot 65 and enjoyed a brief break before starting round two.
Poulter covered his first three holes in one under par to share the lead with fellow LIV player Richard Bland on eight under, Bland starting with three straight birdies before play was suspended due to the fading light.
Tournament officials then announced that the second round would be completed on Saturday, with the third round taking place on Sunday and the fourth on Monday.
“Honestly not very good,” McIlroy said when asked to assess his overall performance. “I struggled out there most of yesterday.
“I thought did I 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 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.
“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.”
As for the eagle on the eighth, McIlroy added: “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. 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.”
Reed had completed 16 holes of his first round in four under on Thursday and resumed on Friday with a par on the short par-four 17th before a closing eagle.
“I’m obviously really happy with the way I played,” Reed said. “I felt like last week wasn’t really a reflection of all the hard work I’ve been doing in the off-season. It was more getting rusty on playing tournament golf.
“So to come out this week and feel like I was able to put everything together and to have my mind right on game planning and course management was definitely a plus.”
The pre-tournament build-up had been dominated by the war of words between Reed and McIlroy, which emerged after Reed threw a tee towards McIlroy after being snubbed by the world number one on the practice range.
McIlroy said he had not seen the tee but had not been impressed at being subpoenaed on Christmas Eve by the lawyer who is representing Reed in a defamation lawsuit against several media members and organisations.
McIlroy’s subpoena is related to a separate civil lawsuit filed in June by Larry Klayman, which claims that Florida residents who bought tickets to PGA Tour events, or would in future, were damaged by the PGA Tour allegedly weakening fields by suspending players who joined LIV.
Reed, who joined LIV during its inaugural event in June, told reporters the subpoena – which Klayman has also attempted to serve on Tiger Woods – has “nothing to do with me and nothing to do with any of the lawsuits that I’m a part of” and labelled McIlroy “an immature little child”.