The American continues to be box office, writes Alex Perry, and it's weeks like the Dubai Desert Classic that make us realise just how much the fans are losing out
Every good story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It should also have a hero. And a villain. And the Dubai Desert Classic couldn’t have been scripted better if Hollywood had got its grubby hands on it.
So meet our protagonist, Rory McIlroy, and his arch rival Patrick Reed, who set up the week at Emirates Golf Club perfectly with what can only really be described as something bordering on a pantomime skit.
As comical as it was, it left us all desperate for a showdown between the pair in the coming days.
And while they never played in the same group, they were locked in intense battle atop the leaderboard throughout. Then, as the third round came to a climax in the fading Dubai sun, drama! We were all on the edge of our collective seat as Reed’s ball clattered into a trio of trees that flank the 17th fairway.
It’s fascinating, isn’t it? For someone who has found himself on the wrong side of rules kerfuffles on more occasions than we care to remember, Reed sure knows how to make himself the headlines for the wrong reasons.
While super slow-motion TV replays showed Reed’s ball going into a different tree to the one from which Reed and European Tour chief referee Kevin Feeney identified it, he was permitted to drop, make his bogey, and move on.
(As a side note – was Reed at fault there? He couldn’t possibly have known, from back on the tee, which tree his ball was in – or even if it was in a tree at all. So an official error? Perhaps. But the bottom line is he described his ball, it was identified, he was told to take a drop and play on.)
Imagine if he had gone on to win after the tree incident, though. It would have blown up this tiny golf universe in which we immerse ourselves daily.
But in the end the good guy, as they so often do, came out on top. McIlroy banished his demons on that tempting par-5 finisher by playing it sensibly and methodically after finding the thick stuff from the tee.
With a tricky 15-foot downhill left-to-right slider, many, perhaps including the man standing over the ball, would have taken a two putt and a playoff with his antagonist. He didn’t need it. The ball slipped in the side door and McIlroy, like many of us watching at home, punched the air in celebration.
Not the result Reed – or, indeed, the neutrals – wanted, but a happy ending nonetheless.
But – and be honest – how many of you would have tuned in to the Dubai Desert Classic if Reed wasn’t playing?
McIlroy would have got more in, and then a few extras once he established himself as a contender, but it wouldn’t be as fun without Reed.
He puts eyeballs on televisions. On websites. On newspapers. You talk about Tiger Woods moving the needle. Reed moves the needle. For the right reasons? Not always. But you’re fascinated by him. By his every move.
Sport is infinitely better when it has these rivalries. There are plenty of sticks with which to beat the PGA and DP World Tours, and LIV Golf, but it’s a damn shame they’ve put us in this situation. It’s only the fans who lose out.
Rory vs Reed, which began at the 2016 Ryder Cup and has since taken in a rumble at the Masters as well as a lawsuit, is about as good as we’ve got in the sport at the moment.
We, perhaps, shouldn’t take that for granted.
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