Rory McIlroy carded a brilliant 65 to lead by three shots as he chases his third Hero Dubai Desert Classic win, but Patrick Reed still managed to overshadow the Holywood star with another rules controversy.
he pair narrowly avoided being drawn together in yesterday’s third round in which McIlroy made eight birdies in 17 holes to go four clear before taking six at the par-five 18th after finding water with his approach.
Playing in the group ahead of McIlroy, Reed left the Ulsterman waiting on the 17th tee when his drive got stuck up a palm tree 50 yards short of the green.
Had he failed to identify his ball, the 2018 Masters champion would have been forced to return to the tee.
But he used binoculars to identify it as his, dropped under the tree after a one-shot penalty and made bogey before going on to birdie the 18th for a 69 that left him tied for fourth on 11-under. He’s just four shots behind McIlroy, whose 65 gave him a three-shot lead over England’s Dan Bradbury and Callum Shinkwin on 15-under par.
Asked afterwards if he was “100 per cent” sure it was his ball, Reed said: “100 per cent. I would have gone back to the tee if I wasn’t 100 per cent… I got lucky that we were able to look through the binoculars and you have to make sure it’s your ball and how I mark my golf balls is I always put an arrow on the end of my line, because the Pro V1 arrow on the end stops before it – so you can see the arrow.
“And you could definitely see and identify the line with the arrow on the end, and the rules official, luckily, was there to reconfirm and check it to make sure it was mine as well.”
Reed has been at the centre of several rules controversies over the years and the DP World Tour felt obliged to issue a statement.
“Two on-course referees and several marshals identified that Patrick Reed’s ball had become lodged in a specific tree following his tee-shot on 17,” it said.
“The DP World Tour chief referee joined the player in the area and asked him to identify his distinctive ball markings. Using binoculars, the chief referee was satisfied that a ball with those markings was lodged in the tree.
“The player subsequently took an unplayable penalty drop (Rule 19.2c) at the point directly below the ball on the ground. To clarify, the player was not asked to specify the tree but to identify his distinctive ball markings to confirm it was his ball.”
While Reed is in the clear, the noise will likely rumble on considering past rules controversies, such as the two-shot penalty he was handed for improving his lie in a waste bunker in the Bahamas in 2019.
And it’s been an eventful week in Dubai for Reed. Earlier last week, McIlroy refused to acknowledge Reed, whose lawyers had subpoenaed him on Christmas Eve, when he tried to say hello on the range.
Reed reacted by flicking a LIV-branded tee in his direction and after McIlroy said it was disingenuous of him to expect “a hello or a handshake”, the American labelled him “an immature little child”.
McIlroy, however, will be tough to beat on the evidence of his play yesterday when he birdied the first four holes, added three in a row from the 13th and picked up another at the 17th before finding water at the last in a repeat of the 72nd-hole bogey that handed Victor Hovland the title last year. He has yet to start a year with a win or lift a Rolex Series title, but he has a chance to do both today.
“Yeah, it would be great,” admitted McIlroy, who is guaranteed to remain world No 1 after Jon Rahm tied seventh behind Max Homa in the Farmers Insurance Open on Saturday. “I love this golf course. I love this tournament. You know, as you said, I’ve won here a couple of times.
“You know, this is my first start of the year. I don’t think I’ve ever won in my first start of the year.
“I had plenty of chances at Abu Dhabi down the road over the years and never quite got it done. So tomorrow is a nice opportunity to try to do something that I’ve never done before.”
Dubai Desert Classic, Live, Sky Sports Golf, 5.0am