Dubai Desert Classic third-round draw sees tee-gate rivals Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed kept apart… but LIV rebel Henrik Stenson finds himself placed alongside Ryder Cup successor Luke Donald
- Rory McIlroy has not been drawn with Patrick Reed in Dubai Classic third-round
- A feud has emerged between the pair after Reed threw a tee at McIlroy this week
- But LIV rebel Henrik Stenson has been placed alongside Luke Donald at 8:15
- The Englishman succeeded the Swede as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain in August
The alchemy of the draw sheet takes with one hand and gives with the other. For while Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed have been kept apart for the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic, those of a devilish inclination may be fascinated by one of the earlier groups.
That will see Henrik Stenson going off at 8.15am local time in the company of the man who replaced him as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, Luke Donald. One way or another, the subplots of this tournament just will not let the LIV narrative die.
Of course, the prime head-to-head in that regard is yet to be realised, and needless to say it would see the pitting of McIlroy against Reed, which for a time on Saturday appeared to be on the cards. For all the earnestness of those who rule this sport in such confused times, you suspect the sponsors here would like nothing more than the crescendo of a shootout in the final loop on Monday.
Rory McIlroy has not been paired with rival Patrick Reed for the third-round of the Dubai Desert Classic
It remains a possibility as the protagonists of ‘tee-gate’, or the storm in the tee cup, if you prefer, are locked together at eight under par. That leaves the world No 1 and the LIV rebel just two off the lead shared by Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, the American amateur Michael Thorbjornsen and Richard Bland, the 49-year-old from Burton upon Trent, who to many on the DP World Tour is seen as the acceptable face of LIV.
Adding to the LIV flavour on the leaderboard, McIlroy was joined at eight under by Bernd Wiesberger, a former Ryder Cup team-mate for Europe who will be part of his third-round group. It will be interesting to observe the dynamic between a breakaway rebel and LIV’s staunchest critic, though McIlroy will most likely be more focused on shaking off the rust of his four-week winter break.
Unlike the opening round, in which he somehow carded a 66 from a series of unconvincing swings, his 70 on Saturday was characterised by numerous missed drives. He hit only two fairways all day and was largely bailed out by his short game, so he felt a certain amount of relief to be in contention at all.
But Henrik Stenson (left) has been paired with Luke Donald (right) the man who replaced him as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain
By this point those struggles have long since overtaken any desire to prolong discussions around Reed. When he was asked McIlroy what he thought about possibly being grouped with the American, he said: ‘I need to sort my game out. That’s how I think. I need to go to the range – I need to sort everything out. I need to straighten up my tee shots and feel like I have a chance going into the next two days.’
The 33-foot putt he sank for eagle at 13, the highlight in a frustrating round of 15 pars, ensured he still has that chance.
Bland, meanwhile, has emerged an intriguing shot out of left-field. His popularity among peers survived the move to the Saudi-backed LIV tour, largely because of his age and lengthy service to the European circuit, on which he made a very fine living but not the sort of fabulous wealth familiar to many who cashed in.
He said: ‘I think everybody understands my position at the age that I’m at and the opportunity put in front of me. I don’t think anyone in that position would have turned it down. I might be wrong – I usually am – but I think everybody would have taken it and I’m glad I did.
‘I think if I had had any ill comments towards me or animosity from the guys, I’m sure maybe it might have had a knock-on effect with me but there hasn’t been, so I’ve just been able to go out and play.
‘If I was exempt on to the Champions Tour, I probably wouldn’t have taken it because that’s where I sort of saw my future. But Champions Tour is the hardest tour in the world to get exempt, and sometimes you have to take the opportunity that’s in front of you and that’s what I did and I’m glad I did.’
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