Rory McIlroy sank a 15ft birdie putt on the 72nd hole to pip Patrick Reed and win his first start of the season in thrilling fashion at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic.

Leading by a stroke from a resurgent Reed coming to the final hole, McIlroy flirted with disaster on the tee shot, his ball almost trundling into the lake right of the fairway. Fortunately for the Down golfer, his ball held up in the rough just shy of the water.

As Reed tapped in for a birdie-4 on the 18th green to tie the lead at 18-under, McIlroy, who dunked his second shot to 18 in the water on Saturday, opted to lay up with his approach. He then clipped his 92 yard pitch to 15ft, needing the putt to win or else face a playoff.


While Reed watched from the scorers' tent - having signed in for an impressive closing round of 65 - McIlroy surveyed the tricky downhill putt.

And the World's No.1 proceeded to cosy it into the hole to win the tournament for the third time and begin 2023 in the best possible fashion.

"It means a lot," McIlroy said. "It was a battle all day, it's been a battle all week. I really feel I haven't had my best all week but I just managed my game so well and played really smart.

"Just ecstatic that I gave myself an opportunity the first week back out and there's tonnes of room for improvement but it's a great start to the year."

McIlroy and Reed had begun the week embroiled in a war of words after Reed threw a tee towards McIlroy after being snubbed by him 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, although McIlroy's subpoena relates to a separate suit filed by Larry Klayman.

"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 really had to concentrate on focusing on myself, forget who was up there on the leaderboard and I did that really, really well," McIlroy added on Sky Sports.

Reed began the day four shots off the lead but birdied the second and third before holing out from a greenside bunker on the sixth to close the gap to a single shot.

McIlroy followed eight straight pars with a much-needed birdie on the ninth to briefly double his lead, only for Reed to then almost hole his second shot to the par-five 10th for an albatross.

The tap-in eagle took Reed into a share of the lead and, although McIlroy two-putted the same hole for birdie, Reed also birdied the 11th to get back on level terms.

Reed's fifth birdie of the day on the par-five 13th edged him into the outright lead for the first time, but, in echoes of their epic singles clash in the 2016 Ryder Cup, McIlroy responded with a superb approach to the same hole and tapped in for a birdie after narrowly missing from 18 feet for eagle.

McIlroy celebrates sinking the winning putt on 18

McIlroy's bogey on the 15th gifted Reed the lead again only for the American to promptly drop a shot on the 16th following a wayward drive and McIlroy took full advantage with a birdie on the 17th to reclaim top spot.

Then came the drama at 18, McIlroy's drive stopping a foot short of the water. He reached his ball just as Reed two-putted for birdie to join him in the lead.

Effectively forced to lay up, McIlroy then hit a wedge to 15 feet left of the pin and holed the putt before letting out a roar of relief and delight.

With additional reporting: PA