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‘I’m a fan of 72-hole golf’: Rory McIlroy jokes ‘we can go until Tuesday’ in a dig at rivals LIV’s format after rain-hit first round at the Dubai Desert Classic, as the world No 1 ties for third with tee-gate rival Patrick Reed

  • Rory McIlroy surged up the leaderboard after a rain-interrupted first round
  • McIlroy lies joint third with rival Patrick Reed at the Dubai Desert Classic 
  • The prospect of the rivals being paired increased amid their war of words

It took Rory McIlroy 45 minutes to shake off the rusts of winter and emerge as a serious contender at the Dubai Desert Classic.

If there is a devilish sense of possibility in all that, it comes from where his closing burst of birdie-eagle-birdie left him after the rain-interrupted first round: in a tie for third on six under with none other than Patrick Reed.

Most will likely know by now that there is some recent history between them, all of which makes the prospect of a reunion as a pairing in either the third or fourth round all the tastier.

The world number one belatedly completed his first round with an impressive late run

The world number one belatedly completed his first round with an impressive late run

While they have each reverted to playing down the ‘tee-gate’ saga, that is somewhat akin to forcing toothpaste back into a tube after all that has been said here by both men on the back of an otherwise laughable encounter on the driving range.

They had rather hoped the narrative will quickly shift to chips and putts, and yet events are conspiring to keep them together. Of course, to get to such a frosty date, or indeed one with Reed’s LIV colleague Ian Poulter, who shared the 18-hole lead with the Swedish amateur Ludvig Aberg at seven under, they must first maintain their trajectories through a second round that will drag deep into Saturday because of the poor weather.

A Monday finish has been reluctantly scheduled by the DP World Tour after two days of downpours in the desert, which would have ranked as the most surreal aspect of the tournament had it not been for a subpoena, a snub, a tossed tee and the reopening of Pandora’s box.

The propect of McIlroy being paired with Patrick Reed increased amid the pair's war of words

The propect of McIlroy being paired with Patrick Reed increased amid the pair’s war of words

‘We can go on until Tuesday next week if we have to,’ said McIlroy, before chucking in a little dig at the LIV format of 54-hole competitions: ‘I’m a fan of 72-hole golf, as you know.’

Owing to the flooding of the course, McIlroy was forced to complete his final three holes of the opening round on Friday morning. Resuming on the seventh with a four-footer for birdie, he sank the putt to reach three under, before pushing his drive right and into sandy wasteland at the next.

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His recovery with a lob wedge from 116 yards dropped in via a couple of bounces for an eagle two, before he closed with birdie after another lose drive, meaning his morning workout amounted to six shots, and a pleasing 66 from a performance he felt was not nearly so impressive as the numbers suggested.

Ian Poulter, pictured, leads with Richard Bland before his second round was suspended

Ian Poulter, pictured, leads with Richard Bland before his second round was suspended

He said: ‘I’m usually the master of turning into a 66 into a 70 but that was the other way around. The score glosses over the golf that I played. There’s no way I should be six-under.

‘I need to refine my long game, but this puts me in a great position.’

Poulter shot an excellent 65, including a chip-in birdie at the last. He had reached eight under before his second round was suspended after eight holes, and was joined by fellow LIV golfer Richard Bland. 

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