The Punter's De-Brief: Rory edges out Reed in classic encounter in Dubai

Golfer Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy lays up on the 72nd hole in Dubai

World number one, Rory McIlroy, has held off LIV rebel, Patrick Reed, to win his third Dubai Desert Classic and our man's back with a look back at a dramatic Monday shootout...


Dubai Desert Classic week started with lots of rain, which would lead to a Monday finish, and what would soon become known as 'Teegate' when the world number one, Rory McIlroy, refused to engage with LIV rebel, Patrick Reed, on the range.

In response to being ignored, Reed nonchalantly flicked a tee in the direction of Rory and the story ran and ran.

Fast forward four days and Reed, who's been a controversial character in the game of golf for many a year, was in the news again, this time with 'Treegate' when his tee-shot on the drivable par four 17th in round three on Sunday got stuck up a palm tree.

Whether Reed could see from the tee-box which tree it struck we'll never know but after a few spectators had pointed to a particular tree to the right of the fairway, he and the referee went about trying to identify 'his' ball with binoculars.

As highlighted below, it now appears quite obvious that they were looking in the wrong tree, which makes it rather odd that Reed was able to identify his ball.

Love him or loathe him, and the latter would top any poll, Reed clearly doesn't help himself, but nobody can deny his ability and it wasn't long before he emerged as the biggest danger to Rory in round four.

Rory had begun the day leading by three and trading at around 1.42/5 but the gap at the top narrowed as he parred the first eight holes in-a-row.

The 2020 winner, Lucas Herbert, closed to within one with three birdies in-a-row from the ninth and he was matched at a low of 9.08/1 but having turned in three-under-par, Patrick Reed emerged as the biggest danger when he drew alongside Rory with an eagle at ten after this incredible approach.

Generally a 90.089/1 chance before the off, and matched at a high of 110.0109/1, Reed hit a low of 1.784/5 when he led by a stroke with three to play after Rory had bogeyed the par three 15th Reed made bogey at 16 after a poor drive and he had to settle for par on 17 after his tee shot found a bush.

Rory made a birdie three at 17 to lead once again but when Reed birdied the 18th the two were tied for the final time.

McIlroy had messed up on 18 in the final round 12 months ago, he found water again with his approach in round three on Sunday, and he was somewhat fortunate not to go in the drink again today.

Talking after his win (see below), Rory spoke about how tricky the tee-shot on 18 is for him and having used driver instead of three wood, his tee-shot stopped inches from the water.

He will have been tempted to go for the green in two but he and his caddie, Harry Diamond, deserve an awful lot of praise for taking the pragmatic decision to lay up.

From 92 yards out, Rory hit a sensible approach to just inside 15 feet before rolling in the birdie putt for his third Dubai Desert Classic title and we were denied what would have been an extremely intriguing playoff.

Incredibly, this is the first time Rory has won his first event of the year and it's also his first victory in a Rolex Series event.

Having retained his position at the top of the world rankings, Rory has also returned to the head of the US Masters market but that ding-dong battle might not be over.

Both Rahm and Rory are in fine fettle and it's still not clear who'll go off favourite for the year's first major in April.

And talking of the US Masters, that event is clearly a very solid pointer to the Dubai Desert Classic.

The last three winners at Augusta - Scottie Scheffler, Hideki Matsuyama and Dustin Johnson - have never played in the DDC but the four Masters winners before them were Danny Willett, Sergio Garcia, Patrick Reed and Tiger Woods. Of the four, Reed is the only one not to have won the DDC.

The DP World Tour remains in the Middle East this week for the Ras Al Khaimah Championship, which I've previewed here, and the PGA Tour remains in California for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which I've previewed here.

Homa clinches another Californian crown

Jon Rahm pitched up at Torrey Pines on Wednesday in search of his third PGA Tour win in-a-row and his fourth victory in five starts but his spectacular run finally came to an end at his favourite course.

The 6.05/1 pre-event favourite, who could have returned to the top of the world rankings with a win, soon put himself under pressure with a disappointing opening 73 around the South Course but after bouncing back with 67 around the North Course in round two and a fabulous 66 on Friday to get to within two of Sam Ryder's lead, the Spaniard was back at the head of the market and trading at around 2.35/4. He was matched at a low of 2.111/10.

That looked a short enough price, and it didn't take long for him to drift once play started.

A bogey at the very first hole set the tone for a low energy two-over par 74 that saw Rahm eventually finish tied for seventh.

There was a suggestion that Ryder's routine-rich slow play may have got to Rahm but it's more likely that this was just one tournament too many. He looked tired at the end of The American Express last Sunday and having to chase so hard after round one couldn't have helped.

As Rahm dropped a shot at one, Ryder rolled in a 13-footer for birdie to open up a four-stroke lead and the pre-event 680.0679/1 chance was matched at a low of just 1.84/5 but a string of pars followed, allowing others to close the gap.

With three birdies in his first six holes, my pre-event 28.027/1 pick, Max Homa, emerged as the biggest danger to Ryder and when the overnight leader made back-to-back bogeys at seven and eight, Homa went odds-on for the first time.

Ryder rallied with a birdie at 10 and he was back in front when Homa bogeyed the 14th but not for long...

After parring the tricky 15th, Homa hit this peach of a tee shot on the 16th - the toughest hole on the course - before rolling in the birdie putt (one of only three made there all day) and when Ryder double-bogeyed the 15th, Keegan Bradley emerged as the biggest danger to Homa with a brilliant birdie three at the 17th to close to within a stroke.

Bradley, who I backed after 54 holes at 270.0269/1, was matched at 4.94/1 after he'd birdied the 17th but after a superb drive on 18, he missed the green left, finding a tricky spot in the greenside bunker, and that was the end of his challenge.

Bradley was unable to get up-and down for birdie and Homa went on to win by two.

Trading opportunities aplenty again

Homa, who was a 22.021/1 chance with a round to go, was the second Farmers Insurance Open winner in-a-row to win from five strokes back. Off the pace winners are fairly common here and we've seen it all before.

The 2016 winner, Brandt Snedeker, was a 200.0199/1 chance prior to the final round, last year's winner, Luke List, was a 290.0289/1 chance with 18 to play and in addition to Bradley, two other players were matched at a lot shorter than they'd began the day trading at...

After a run of four birdies in-a-row saw Hideki Matsuyama post a six-under-par front-nine, the Japanese star hit a low of 5.24/1. He was matched at 800.0799/1 before the final round and he was generally a 500.0499/1 chance with 18 to play, and although he didn't go quite as low as Matsuyama or Bradley, Rickie Fowler was matched at a low of 14.5 having been trading at around 260.0259/1 after round three.

Taking positions at huge odds with a view to trading is clearly a good tactic in this event and as I've advocated on many occasions, there can often be money to be made laying in the place markets.

Rahm was matched at as low as 1.111/9 in the Top 5 Finish market and anyone that took the 1.021/50 about a top-ten finish had an uncomfortable evening.

Homa the king of California

Homa clearly loves a home state tournament. This was his fourth victory in his last seven starts in California and he's one to keep on the right side of.

His tee shot at 16 demonstrated perfectly how much bottle he has in-contention and with six wins in 156 PGA Tour starts, he's quite prolific.

Multiple winners of the Farmers are not uncommon so given Homa has already won both the Wells Fargo Championship and the Fortinet Championship twice, a successful defence in 12 months' time could be on the cards.

Homa was also a winner for Nappy Factor fans given he and his wife, Lacey, welcomed their first child, Cam, into the world at the end of October.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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