McIlroy vs. Reed in Dubai, Max Homa’s rise and more from the PGA Tour

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The ongoing battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf for the best players in the world seems to have reached the pettiness phase, and boy, it’s hard to turn away.

With LIV players, Rory McIlroy and others hooking up in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic this past weekend, there were plenty of fireworks.

First it was “tee gate,” in which LIV Golf player Patrick Reed tossed a tee at McIlroy on the practice range. Turns out, reports of the altercation were more exaggerated than LeBron James’ protest of a blown call. Both sides weighed in with reporters, with McIlroy revealing that Reed’s lawyer had served him a subpoena on Christmas Eve (Reed insists he had nothing to do with it).

Then, in Sunday’s third round, Henrik Stenson, who was removed as captain of the European team for the 2023 Ryder Cup when he jumped to LIV Golf, played with Luke Donald, the man who replaced him. England’s Tyrrell Hatton was paired with them.

Donald was announced as “Ryder Cup captain” on the first tee at Emirates Golf Club on Sunday, which drew a pretty good response from Stenson, who joked, “The only thing I would say is that I was surprised I wasn’t announced as the former captain.”

Donald told reporters in Dubai that there were no issues while playing with Stenson.

“You guys like to make it a storm in a teacup,” Donald said. “There were no issues. It was just like we were playing a normal round.”

Sunday’s round was anything but normal for Reed, who once again was involved in an interesting rules incident when his tee shot became lodged in a palm tree. Reed used binoculars to identify the markings on his ball.

With McIlroy grabbing the 54-hole lead, Phil Mickelson made a tongue-in-cheek comment on Twitter about where the tournament was being played. We’re guessing the all-caps were added for effect.

After everything that went down, it seemed only fitting that McIlroy and Reed would duel it out in Monday morning’s delayed final round in Dubai. McIlroy took a 3-shot lead into the final 18 holes, but Reed, who was playing in the group in front of him, drew even and briefly took the lead on the back nine.

After Reed bogeyed the 16th hole and made par on the 17th, McIlroy carded birdies on the last two holes to finish 19 under, one shot better than Reed. After nearly driving his tee shot into the water, McIlroy made a 15-footer on the final hole to win. It was his first Rolex Series title and his third victory in the event.

“I had to work really hard to forget about who was up there and just try to focus on myself,” McIlroy said after his round.

With the victory, his first in the calendar year, McIlroy affirmed his position as the No. 1 player in the world.

“It’s never easy closing out a golf tournament,” McIlroy said. “There’s always going to be people that make runs, and you know, playing when you’re defending a lead or have a lead, you’re always going to play a little more carefully than the guys that are coming up behind you.”

Hopefully, the golf drama in the Middle East was only a tantalizing appetizer for what’s to come when the best players from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf get together again at the majors, starting with the Masters in April.

As fractured as the sport might be, the LIV Golf-PGA Tour rivalry is one heck of a storyline.

“I think mentally today was probably one of the toughest rounds I’ve ever had to play because it would be really easy to let your emotions get in the way, and I just had to really concentrate on focusing on myself,” McIlroy said. “Forget who was up there on the leaderboard, and I did that really, really well.”

What happened on the PGA Tour

Farmers Insurance Open

Where: Torrey Pines, La Jolla, California

Winner: Max Homa

Why he won: Few PGA Tour players have become more adept at coming from behind to win. Homa rallied from a 5-shot deficit over the final 18 holes and grabbed his sixth PGA Tour victory when Sam Ryder and Jon Rahm faltered in Saturday’s final round. Each of Homa’s past five victories has been a come-from-behind win.

At Torrey Pines, Homa led the field in strokes gained: tee to green and strokes gained: approach. He hit 73.6% of greens in regulation and gained 1.53 strokes on the field in putting. Homa had seven birdies in the final round, including ones on the par-3 16th and par-5 18th to defeat Keegan Bradley by 2 shots.

Homa’s rise

The PGA Tour might have the new hero it desperately needs as it continues its fight against LIV Golf.

The golf Twitter world has long known that Max Homa is one of the funniest, most transparent and most quick-witted golfers on tour, and the PGA Tour finally seems to be embracing his personality.

Just this past weekend, Homa interjected himself in the McIlroy-Reed beef, and he poked fun at Reed again when he allowed CBS Sports to mike him up during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

“Everybody else calls me the social media guy,” Homa said. “I still think I’m a pretty darn good golfer. Obviously, [the] results helped me kind of build that foundation. I do like to say dumb things and make dumb jokes and observe weird stuff and tweet about it like, you know, a kid, I guess. But when I work, when I practice, when I play tournaments — this is what I love.”

We’ve learned something else about the 32-year-old over the past several months: Homa is one of the best players in the world.

Homa picked up his sixth PGA Tour victory on Saturday by rallying in the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Each of his six wins has come since 2019, and only McIlroy (eight) and Patrick Cantlay (seven) have finished first more often on tour, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

It was also Homa’s fourth win in California. He also captured the 2021 Genesis Invitational at Riviera and twice won the Fortinet Championship in Napa. He grew up north of Los Angeles and won the 2013 NCAA Division I individual championship at Cal.

Homa and his wife, Lacey, had their first son, Cam, on Oct. 30. It was Homa’s first victory since he became a father. He was able to celebrate with his family at Torrey Pines.

“It’s a little different because I feel like I’ve almost worked harder for this because I want to spend as much time as I possibly can helping her and being with Cam and doing all the cool things, catching some smiles here and there and getting screamed at,” Homa said. “But I also want to be the best golfer on the planet, and she knows that and she just does an amazing job letting me do both, especially when she’s here on the road and when I’m home.”

Moving up and down

Moving up

Keegan Bradley

Bradley dropped 30 pounds over the past few months, and his commitment to fitness is paying off. He won the Zozo Championship in October and finished solo runner-up at Torrey Pines.

Rickie Fowler

A couple of late mistakes prevented Fowler from cracking the top 10, but his performance was a step in the right direction. He gained 1.477 strokes on the field in putting, which was a dramatic improvement.

Collin Morikawa

Playing for the first time since he blew a 6-shot lead in the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, Morikawa didn’t show much scar tissue in finishing solo third.

Jason Day

The 35-year-old Australian is showing signs of life with back-to-back top-20s, including a tie for seventh at Torrey Pines. The two-time Farmers Insurance Open winner has seven top-10s in the event.

Moving down

Will Zalatoris

Zalatoris looked great in his return from a back injury when he tied for 11th at the Tournament of Champions. Since then, he tied for 36th at the American Express and missed the cut at the Farmers.

Harris English

The former Ryder Cup player has struggled since returning from a hip injury. He missed the cut in back-to-back starts.

Cameron Champ

The long hitter has struggled the past few months. He hasn’t finished in the top 50 since going solo eighth at the Zozo Championship. He hit only 42.3% of fairways at Torrey Pines.

Gary Woodland

The 2019 U.S. Open winner was 6 under in the first round, then 12 over in the final 54 holes. He lost nearly 2 strokes to the field in putting over 72 holes.

Best of the week

Best approach

This eagle helped PGA Tour rookie Brent Grant earn his first top-25 finish on tour.

Best chip

It keeps rolling and rolling and rolling.

Best putt

Morikawa’s putt needed a turn signal.

Best tee shot

Rookie Kyle Westmoreland, the first U.S. Air Force Academy graduate to play on tour, picked up his first ace at Torrey Pines.

Worst break

Golf is hard. Ask Thomas Detry.

Best social media of the week

“LIV Golf offered you how much?”

Jessica Hadwin didn’t have much faith that her husband, Adam Hadwin, was going to make the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open. When her Twitter profile says her “humor or bad jokes are my own and do not reflect the views of my husband,” you know she’s funny.

Not safe for work? Not safe anywhere!

Tee gate and a pants controversy in the same week. It’s too much. Phil’s tweet was good.

But this reply from fellow jogger enthusiast Erik van Rooyen was better.

Even John Daly, the king of golf fashion, weighed in.

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