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.
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