'I don't think there was intent': Rory McIlroy backs Patrick Reed after Hero World Challenge controversy
Rory McIlroy believes "kicking" Patrick Reed has become a "hobby" and reckons the former Masters champion should be given the benefit of the doubt over his rules rumpus in the Hero World Challenge.
Speaking on Golf Channel's Morning Drive, the world No 2 said he did not believe Reed was "trying to get away with something" when he improved his lie and was penalised two strokes.
"You try to give the player the benefit of the doubt," McIlroy said of Reed, who has been called out for cheating by Australian Cameron Smith ahead of this week's Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
"He is in there and trying to figure out what way to play the shot. Obviously, he has moved some sand, so it is a penalty, but I don't think it would be a big deal if it wasn't Patrick Reed.
"For a lot of people within the game, it is almost like a hobby to kick him when he is down. I have had great interactions with Patrick. I certainly don't think there was intent there."
McIlroy admitted that the slow-motion replay of Reed dragging sand away from behind his ball during two practice swings in a sandy area "does look bad" and "would make things very difficult for him in Australia this week."
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 7, 2019
A closer look at Patrick Reed’s two-stroke penalty during Round 3 of the Hero World Challenge. pic.twitter.com/z2aqkajnYq
And Smith, a member of Ernie Els' International team, made that clear in Sydney on Sunday when he said: "I don't have any sympathy for anyone that cheats. I hope the crowd absolutely gives it to not only him, but everyone (on the American team) next week."
Shown footage of Reed brushing sand away with a practice swing in a sandy area during the Hero World Challenge four years ago, McIlroy was clearly uncomfortable.
"It is almost like an obliviousness to it rather than something intentional, trying to get away with something," he said. "It is almost like his pre-shot routine nearly.
"It is not right. It doesn't make it right what he did. But if it wasn't Patrick Reed and it was someone else, I don't think it would be as big a deal as it's been."
McIlroy revealed that he's seen playing partners do "questionable" things and not reported them.
"I will do everything I can to stay away from confrontation," he said. "I'd be much more comfortable saying it to someone after play in the locker room or having some lunch, ‘Hey, I saw something on the sixth green, I didn't like what I saw. Be a little more careful with your marker', or whatever it may be."
As for 2020, he believes he has the game to win the Masters.
"Each and every year I go back there, I think I am a step closer," he said. "More than anything else, it's a mental thing. If you put yourself in a position to win, it's about embracing that challenge, relishing that and making the most of it.
"I think I have all the tools, it's just about putting them all together."
He reportedly turned down a $2.5 million appearance fee to play in Saudi Arabia next year and admitted that while the moral objections to supporting the regime were a factor, he simply didn't want to travel that far.
"I'd rather play a couple of events on the west coast than travel all the way to Saudi Arabia," he said. "It's just not something I would excite me."
As for his Open-wrecking quadruple bogey at Royal Portrush, he admitted he hadn't felt as nervous on the first tee since Masters Sunday in 2011.
"I didn't mentally prepare for that first tee shot as well as I could have," he said. "I was trying to play it down as just another event. I got on that first tee, and it felt different.
"I don't want to say nervous, but it was like, ‘Whoah, this is happening.' I have been thinking about it for six years, and now it is actually the time.
"I'd say the only thing that comes close to that is standing on the first tee at Augusta with a four-shot lead. I was really nervous that day."