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Rory McIlroy defends Patrick Reed over fresh rules controversy despite tee-gate incident

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Rory McIlroy’s fierce rivalry with Patrick Reed intensified at the enthralling Dubai Desert Classic – but the world number one has come to the American’s defence in his latest rules controversy.

McIlroy edged out inspired LIV Golf rebel Reed to claim a thrilling one-shot victory in Monday’s weather-delayed finish in the desert to make a dream start to 2023.

The 33-year-old’s clutch birdie putt to seal the win at the Emirates Club proved the perfect script for DP World Tour chiefs after the duo had caused a media circus as the stars of ‘tee-gate’ in the build-up to the prestigious Rolex Series event.

Reed flicked a LIV-branded tee at McIlroy and branded him an “immature” child after he was blanked by the Northern Irishman on the driving range.

McIlroy later explained he was served with a court subpoena by Reed’s lawyer on Christmas Eve as part of the maligned former Masters champion’s legal battle against the PGA Tour.

And before the pair fittingly went toe-to-toe in the thrilling Monday finish, Reed courted controversy again during his third round over a bizarre ball-spotting incident.

Reed took an unplayable drop after his drive got stuck in a tree on the 17th on Sunday as the narrative quickly turned from tee-gate to tree-gate.

He identified his ball with binoculars after a long search, but there were doubts raised over whether he could have been completely certain that it was in fact his ball in the tree as he avoided playing his third shot back on the tee.

McIlroy edged out Reed with a thrilling birdie on 18

But after Reed was cleared by rules officials and fired a stunning final-round 65 to push him all the way on Monday, McIlroy did not let their spat get in the way of his own judgement on the incident.

“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.”

Reed also clarified his version of events as he cherished his ‘epic’ final round battle with the best player in the world.

Reed has clarified that he identified his ball in the tree with binoculars

“I’ve heard about it, but really all I can say is that I looked through the binoculars, identified my golf ball and explained what my markings were to the rules official,” Reed said. “He looked and he identified [the ball] exactly the same way I did.”

He added: “The good thing is I know who I am. All I can do is focus on my golf and focus on me. Felt like I’ve done that this week. Felt like I played great.

“It always seems to come down to Rory and I. We love to put on a good show. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong end of this one. Hats off to him, he played some great golf, especially on the weekend.”

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