A Rory McIlroy-Patrick Reed pairing? LIV leaders? Dubai event gets spicy

Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy

Patrick Reed, left, and Rory McIlroy on Friday on the practice green at Emirates Golf Club.

Getty Images

Eddie Pepperell, as he usually does, framed what’s on the horizon well, with a touch of humor, all online. His first round complete at the Dubai Desert Classic, the Englishman shared on Twitter a Game of Thrones GIF — the one where an army on horseback storms toward a sword-wielding Jon Snow — and wrote this line:

“The way the leaderboard is looking, Rory is going to be fired up come Monday.”  

If you thought a tee toss was a hoot, you’ll love what could be coming. And why’s that? Consider:

Rory McIlroy Patrick Reed
What actually happened with Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy? Here’s a forensic breakdown
By: Dylan Dethier

— On the leaderboard at Emirates Golf Club, Ian Poulter and Richard Bland led Friday when play was suspended due to darkness. While storms have delayed play on Thursday and Friday and already forced a Monday finish, seeing two LIV Golf players atop a DP World Tour leaderboard, albeit through only a handful of second-round holes, is a sight. There’s more, though. 

— Two back of the lead is Rory McIlroy, and that’s something, too. By now, you’re likely well versed in LIV v. PGA Tour, but here it all is in a shortish sentence: The PGA Tour and LIV Golf are entering their second calendar year of a fight that has seen LIV offer guaranteed money to Tour players, the Tour create changes in response, the sides sue each other — and McIlroy become a de facto Tour spokesman. There’s more, though. 

— Back to that tee toss. LIV v. PGA Tour is not without some chippiness. On Monday, we heard word that LIV player Patrick Reed approached McIlroy on the Emirates range, then we saw the video: Reed shook hands with Harry Diamond, McIlroy’s caddie; and gestured toward McIlroy, only for McIlroy to appear not to look his way and Reed to toss a LIV Golf tee in his direction — and on Wednesday, we heard the reactions. And on the leaderboard? McIroy and Reed have played just 18 holes, but they each shot six-under. Match that again on Saturday, and there’s a decent chance they’ll both play together and have another shot at that handshake. 

There’s one more thing, though. 

This whole LIV-PGA Tour thing is personal to McIlroy. It’s inspired him. Let’s look at the scoreboard. Since the middle of June, when LIV played its first event, McIlroy has won three events, including the Tour Championship; he finished atop the DP World Tour’s season-long points race; and he returned to world No. 1. Then there’s how the man himself described it. Here’s an exchange he had with a reporter on Wednesday:

“Last year was a big political year for the game of golf, and you were front and center for that. Do you feel like you delivered what you delivered on the course in spite of or because of what was going on?”

Patrick Reed
Patrick Reed reveals he met Rory McIlroy at hotel: ‘I’ll take it as small victory’
By: Nick Piastowski

“I would say a little bit of both,” McIlroy said. “I would say there parts of it were because of, and other parts just in spite of. I think I said a lot last year, and I wanted my actions to match my words.

“So there’s no point in just being a mouthpiece when you can’t back that up by playing good golf and showing people the rewards people can have out here if they are playing well. And it’s a merit-based system. That’s the thing that I’ve always struggled with: If a 5-year-old boy or girl know that they work hard and they shoot the scores, there’s a merit-based system in golf all the way through junior golf, amateur golf, all the way up to the professional level, and they can make it to the top levels of the game.

“And this is the one thing that’s come into the game that has disrupted that, and you’re not certain — you’re not certain to play on that league or that tour. It’s not a merit-based system, where I think golf has always been that, and I’ve always appreciated that about our game.”

As for comments after Friday? In his formal press conference, Reed was asked how “proud” he was of his play in light of “Teegate,” and Reed talked only of the golf course and of being rusty last week. And Poulter, according to Golf Digest’s John Huggan, was asked whether he had any extra incentive to win, and the Englishman said: “I’m just here to play golf. I’m just thinking about playing well tomorrow, nothing else. Then we’ll go from there.”

We’ll end things with McIlroy. 

In his formal press conference, he was asked for his “biggest motivator.” To note, McIlroy also is in a fight with Jon Rahm to keep his spot atop the world rankings, and during last year’s final round in Dubai, McIlroy dumped his second shot in the water on 18 and missed a playoff by a shot, then ripped up his shirt. So there’s that.  

Rory McIlroy
LIV Golf leadership shook up — and Rory McIlroy has a Greg Norman take
By: Nick Piastowski

“Yeah, I mean, I can’t control what anyone else does,” McIlroy said. “Rahmbo has got off to an unbelievable — it is an unbelievable start of the year but building off what he did at the back end of last year as well.

“I’m not really paying attention to the world rankings or anything. I’m just trying to get off to a good start to my year, trying to work on some things in my game and concentrate on myself. I still have some work to do as I said. I didn’t play well at all yesterday, so a little bit of rest and some practice over the next 24 hours before I go out and play again tomorrow.”

And McIlroy also had this line, in the story published by Golf Digest’s Duggan:

“You know I love four rounds,” he said.

LIV, you may recall, plays only three. 

Golf Magazine

Subscribe To The Magazine

Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.