The tension between Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed was hard to ignore at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic after their early week exchange/non-exchange became the talk of Golf Twitter.
That the tournament came down to a Monday dual between the duo on the opposite sides of the PGA Tour/LIV Golf divide only heightened the final-round drama, McIlroy making birdie on the last hole to pull out a one-shot victory.
Afterward, McIlroy acknowledged he felt extra motivation during the final round with Reed being the golfer making the charge. “Did I want to win? Yes. Was there added incentive because of who was up there? Absolutely.”
Yet McIlroy hasn’t always had issues with Reed; he’s even been one of his bigger defenders over the years. In the wake of various rules controversies that Reed had been involved in, and the public backlash that Reed has received, McIlroy argued that the criticism had been overblown.
“I don’t think it would be a big deal if it wasn’t Patrick Reed,” McIlroy said after Reed’s bunker issue, where he was penalised two strokes, at the 2019 Hero World Challenge.
“It’s almost like, a lot of people within the game, it’s almost like a hobby to sort of kick him when he’s down. . . . It’s hard, because you try to give the player the benefit of the doubt, right?”
So where would McIlroy stand when asked about Reed’s latest rules run-in? On Saturday during the third round in Dubai, Reed’s drive on the 17th hole at Emirates Golf Club got stuck in a tree and required binoculars to be identified.
While a DP World Tour rules official worked with Reed in the search for his ball and talked through how to proceed after being satisfied the ball was properly identified, some, notably Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, wondered if Reed was looking in the correct tree after seeing video of the shot.
McIlroy, however, wasn’t one of them, instead seemingly having Reed’s back once more.
“I felt it was fine,” McIlroy said.
“If it had been anyone else in the field it would have been a nonissue, but because of certain things in the past, people bring stuff up, which is maybe unfair in some ways.
“But again, it is what it is. I’ve stood and defended Patrick in some of the controversies. I don’t feel like he was trying to get any advantage.”
Neither did the DP World Tour, which issued a statement on Saturday reiterating its position that Reed handled the situation correctly.
Suffice it to say, it says something about McIlroy that he could compartmentalise his personal frustrations with Reed that he voiced earlier in the week and speak up for him in this different instance. — GolfDigest