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Dubai Desert Classic and Farmers Insurance Open

If Rory McIlroy can sink his putts as sharply as he sank Patrick Reed then he should be a decent bet over four rounds of the Dubai Desert Classic.

The Ryder Cup rivals clashed on the eve of the event when American Reed went over to shake McIroy’s hand in practice and was given a big Northern Irish cold shoulder.

It turned out McIlroy was angered by Reed’s lawyers turning up at McIlroy’s house on Christmas Eve with legal papers over a defamation case.

“I’m living in reality, I don’t know where he’s living. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t expect a hello or a handshake,” said McIlroy.

As world number one, McIlroy is favourite to win his first tournament of 2023, and he has the knowledge that this is a tournament he has won twice before.

He has admitted he put down his clubs for a month in December, having felt exhausted by his role as the PGA’s main attraction in the battle with LIV Golf, but he is still the man fans will most likely back.

McIlroy’s Ryder Cup teammates Tyrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood are also among the fancied golfers, particularly Fleetwood who now lives in Dubai.

McIlroy was two-under par through 15 holes of his opening round.

Another interesting selection might be rising Australian star Min Woo Lee, who was runner-up in the Abu Dhabi Championship last week.

Across the Atlantic, the Farmers Insurance Open is taking place at Torrey Pines in California.

Retired Wales football captain Gareth Bale may have caught the eye of Jon Rahm in the Pro-Am before the tournament, but the Spaniard was not inspired during his first round effort and was already nine shots off the lead after a one-over round 73.

“Not good,” was Rahm’s verdict after his round left him tied for 116th.

Rahm began as the hot tournament favourite, but will need to return with a strong second round to justify that tag.

Leading the way after the first round was Englishman Aaron Rai, who shot a magnificent eight-under 64 for a share of the lead with Americans Sam Ryder and Brent Grant.

“I think the temperature and also how the wind affects the ball is a little closer to what I would have grown up with in the U.K,” said 27-year-old Rai, who hails from Wolverhampton.

“The ball doesn’t travel quite as far here compared to other places in America. The wind feels a little bit heavier also.”

With Rahm slipping back in the betting, the new favourite after the first round was Taylor Montgomery, who finished three behind Rai on five-under.

Rahm’s other rivals at the tournament include Xander Schauffele, 2022 Farmers runner-up Will Zalatoris, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau, Max Homa and Hideki Matsuyama.

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