McIlroy shakes off rust as Dubai Desert Classic gets set for Monday finish

By Sports Desk January 27, 2023

Rory McIlroy put himself firmly in the mix at the Dubai Desert Classic after a flourish that disguised the "rusty" golf he feared would put him way down the leaderboard.

The lucrative DP World Tour event was again hit by wet weather on Friday, after a six-hour delay on Thursday, and with McIlroy among many in the field yet to begin the second round, organisers decided it would be extended to finish on Monday rather than Sunday.

McIlroy got his work for the day done in the morning at Emirates Golf Club, polishing off an opening round he left in a promising place overnight, having reached two under through 15 holes and given himself a short-range putt at the next that he elected to leave for Friday.

The world number one made that putt, then holed out from 107 yards for eagle at the eighth hole, his 17th, and finished with another birdie to complete a six-under 66 for what was a share of the lead at the time.

McIlroy summed up his performance on Thursday as "honestly not very good", so he was thankful to shoot such a low score.

"I struggled out there most of yesterday," McIlroy said. "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 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."

American Patrick Reed, involved in a pre-tournament spat with McIlroy and alleged to have thrown a tee at his rival, joined the Northern Irishman on six under through the opening 18 holes thanks to a 15-foot eagle putt at the last.

Reed, who missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last week, said: "I'm obviously really happy with the way I played. I felt like last week wasn't really a reflection of all the hard work I've been doing in the off-season.

"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. I feel like I had full control of the golf ball and made a couple of putts."

Reed and McIlroy will play their second rounds on Saturday, but others began their second circuits before darkness brought an end to Friday's play.

The first-round joint lead was snatched away from Reed and McIlroy by Swedish amateur Ludvig Aberg and Englishman Ian Poulter, who both carded seven-under 65s.

Aberg then stumbled in the early stages of his second round, slipping back to five under through seven holes, but Poulter had a share of the overnight lead on eight under after making birdie at the third, the last hole he completed.

Alongside Poulter was fellow English veteran Richard Bland, who followed a 67 by picking up three shots in the opening four holes of his second round.

Spain's Angel Hidalgo held third place on seven under after he followed a 66 with an early birdie in round two, while South African Louis de Jager joined McIlroy and Reed in a share of fourth position.

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