As one of the most vocal critics of the LIV Golf breakaway league, Rory McIlroy felt mentally drained at the end of last year and decided to put his clubs away for a few weeks.
“It’s been nice,” said top-ranked McIlroy, “to try to take some time away and try to distance myself from the game of golf.”
Now he’s back and looks as hot as ever.
McIlroy was on the driving range Tuesday at the Dubai Desert Classic when he was approached by Patrick Reed, one of the high-profile players who had joined the exodus to the Saudi-backed series that changed the face of golf in 2022.
McIlroy said he was busy practicing and didn’t feel the need to acknowledge Reed.
“Patrick came up to say hi and I didn’t really want him to,” McIlroy said Wednesday.
McIlroy was asked about reports that the American threw a tee at him. The four-time major winner said he didn’t see or feel anything.
“But obviously that’s what happened,” McIlroy said. “And if the roles were reversed and I would have thrown that tee at him, I would expect him (to file) a lawsuit.”
It was a jibe from McIlroy, who said he was served with a subpoena by Reed’s lawyers on Christmas Eve. He did not provide details of the lawsuit, but Reed filed a defamation suit last month.
Clearly, McIlroy is in no mood for reconciliation in Dubai.
“Obviously if you’re trying to have a good time with my family and somebody shows up on your doorstep and delivers it, you’re not going to take it well,” McIlroy said.
“Then again, living in reality, I don’t know where he lives. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t expect a hello or a handshake.”
The Associated Press has contacted Reed about McIlroy’s comments regarding their interaction on Tuesday.
McIlroy was later asked if it would be beneficial to “fix your relationship” with another LIV rebel, Sergio Garcia, if it would help Europe’s cause ahead of this year’s Ryder Cup.
“No,” was the Northern Irishman’s blunt reply.
The toll imposed on McIlroy for effectively being an anti-LIV spokesman did not prevent him from returning to the top of the world rankings at the end of last year.
His most recent competitive tournament was the World Tour Championship, which also took place in Dubai in November.
McIlroy said the break gave him the opportunity to “recharge and reset and try to start 2023 with renewed optimism,” and he is back in the Middle East with some unfinished business.
In last year’s Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy was in a share of the lead after 71 holes but birdied the par-5 No. 18 on Sunday after hitting his second shot into the water in front of the green. He finished one shot behind Viktor Hovland and Richard Bland, and Hovland ended up winning a playoff.
“It wasn’t quite how I wanted to finish it,” McIlroy said. “But you know, I moved on from that week and played really well and had a great year.”
McIlroy is a two-time winner of the event – in 2009, which was his first title as a professional at the age of 19, and in 2015 – and is enjoying coming to this part of the world.
“I’ve been coming here for a long time, 17 years,” he said. “I have a level of comfort here. I like starting my year here. I have a lot of friends. I called this place home for four years.”