DUBAI: Patrick Reed fared better than Rory McIlroy after some pre-tournament friction as the Dubai Desert Classic got off to a wet start Thursday with only 11 players managing to finish their weather-affected first rounds.
Play only began at the European tour event after a delay of six hours caused by heavy overnight rain that left the course unplayable at Emirates Golf Club.
By the time the siren sounded to suspend play because of fading light, Reed was 4 under par after 16 holes and top-ranked McIlroy was 2 under having played 15 holes.
Thomas Pieters was leading on 5 under, though he also had three holes to play. Three English players — Matthew Jordan, Daniel Gavins and Oliver Wilson — held the clubhouse lead after shooting rounds of 4-under 68.
“It’s certainly strange around here,” Jordan said of the wet conditions, “to see water hazards and stuff in places that you don’t expect it to be.”
Reed and McIlroy traded verbal blows Wednesday after an interaction — of sorts — at the practice range on Tuesday that saw McIlroy snub Reed, who had gone over to wish the Northern Irishman a happy new year. Reed walked away before tossing a tee — featuring a logo of his 4 Aces team in the LIV Golf league — in the direction of McIlroy, one of the most vocal critics of the global series.
Reed said it was “unfortunate” that McIlroy didn’t shake his hand and was quoted as describing McIlroy as “an immature little child.”
It has set the scene for a potential on-course head-to-head in Dubai between two of golf’s most high-profile players. It didn’t come Thursday, with McIlroy starting at No. 10 in his first event of 2023 and Reed opening at the first hole.
McIlroy bogeyed two of his first six holes after leaving chips from the fringe short. He got up and down from a greenside bunker for birdie at No. 18, picked up more shots at No. 2 and 3, and was lining up a birdie putt from inside 4 feet on No. 7 when the siren went off.
Reed birdied three of his first five holes and rebounded from a bogey at No. 10 by holing short birdie putts at Nos. 12 and 14.
Tommy Fleetwood (15 holes) and Victor Perez (16 holes), who won the Abu Dhabi Championship last week, were also on 4 under when they had to leave the course.
Half the field had yet to get on the course and will start their first rounds on Friday. Players were informed in the early hours of Thursday morning that Emirates Golf Club was “inaccessible” and told not to travel to the course due to several roads being flooded following heavy rain.
Play finally got underway following a few hours of dry weather and a massive clean-up operation by ground staff.
“It’s tough,” Jordan said. “I mean, it was nice to see that at 5.20 a.m. I could roll back over in bed and have a lie-in. So that was nice.”