Benefit of the DoubtDecember 9, 2019

Rory McIlroy on Patrick Reed controversy: Wouldn't 'be a big deal if it wasn't Patrick Reed'

WGC HSBC Champions - Day Four
Zhe JiRory McIlroy (Photo by Zhe Ji/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy has long been considered one of golf’s best interviews, often providing insightful answers on a wide array of topics.

So what does he think of the latest controversy surrounding Patrick Reed and what happened last week in a bunker during the third round of the Hero World Challenge?

“The live shot isn’t as incriminating as the slow-mo,” McIlroy said on Monday during an appearance on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive. “You try to give the player the benefit of the doubt. He’s in there trying to figure out what way to play the shot.

“I don’t think it would be a big deal if it wasn’t Patrick Reed. A lot of people within the game, it’s almost a hobby to kick him while he’s down.”

To McIlroy’s point, Reed has on more than one occasion found himself at the center of controversy. But the 30-year-old Northern Irishman didn’t completely exonerate Reed on the matter, either.

“That shot does look bad,” he continued. “It’s very hard for me not to think he didn’t feel what he was doing. It’s a hard one. I’d rather try to give someone the benefit of the doubt, take your penalty and move on.”

What has made that difficult for some, however, is video of Reed having done something similar at the same event in 2015. When video of that incident — for which he was not penalized — surfaced in the hours after Reed’s two-stroke penalty at the Hero, it stoked the flames even more.

“It’s almost an obliviousness to it rather than actually anything intent-ful in terms of trying to get away with something,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s his pre-shot routine, nearly. It doesn’t make it right what he did, but if it wasn’t Patrick Reed and it was someone else it would’ve not been as big a deal as it's been made out to be.

“If he’s learned his lesson and doesn’t do it again then it’s a good thing.”

RELATED: Patrick Reed's rules miscue gives fans 'pretty good ammo' at the Presidents Cup next week

As for the rest of McIlroy’s interview, he reflected on a number of other topics as well.

On the Open Championship at Royal Portrush, the emotion of playing at home and missing the cut: “I didn’t mentally prepare for that first tee shot as well as I could have. I got on that first tee and it felt different. It was, woah this is happening.”

On motivation and whether his 30s, during which he’s already won three times, will be better than his 20s, when he won 22 times around the world, including four majors: “I struggled with that for a year. In 2013 I thought, what am I playing for, what are my goals? Then you realize it isn’t everything. It's about fulfilling the potential you think you have. … What’s important is trying to make the most of the talent I have and fulling that potential.”

On choosing not to play in Saudi Arabia next, year, despite reportedly being offered $2.5 million to do so, while a handful of other big-name players are playing: “I don’t want to. I’d rather play a couple West Coast events and not travel all the way there. It’s not something that would excite me. There’s a morality to it as well. … you can say that about so many countries, that there's a reason not to go. For me, I don’t want to go.”

On his decision to embrace the Olympics and represent Ireland next year: “I had to ask myself questions I never had to ask myself before. Where do my loyalties lie? Where am I from? What does that mean to me? It weighed heavily on me and then I started to resent the Olympics because what it put upon me. But then I realized I can’t please everyone…It’s going to be really exciting. I’m looking forward to it. To be on tour for 12 or 13 years and experience something you’ve never experienced before is pretty cool.”