Patrick Reed, after Teegate and Treegate, nearly wins. Of course he did.
Patrick Reed hooked his tee shot. And there was no immediate sign of his ball. And there was a palm tree in the area.
“I didn’t see that come down,” a Golf Channel announcer said.
Noooo waaaay. Not again. Impossible.
No, no, Reed and his ball were good, though a couple awkward seconds had passed on Monday on the 16th at Emirates Golf Club. “Yeah, the marshall saw it quick,” another Golf Channel commentator said. Before laughing.
And all that was before the hole, though it was juicy again on Monday on the 17th. Reed hit right once again, as he did Sunday, toward those trio of palms. An announcer called them “famous.” This time, during Monday’s Dubai Desert Classic final round, Reed avoided them — though his ball rolled into a nearby bush.
And this is where we are now, in these Treegate — Palmgate? Binocularsgate? — days. It’s tense, isn’t it? Of course, we’ve been here before with Reed, who’s had his adventures with the rules in the past, and the comments ensue. But with those, another pattern comes. It’s formulaic, in fact.
Remember Pluggate two years ago at Torrey Pines? But do you remember the winner? The former featured Reed; the latter was him. Remember Bunkergate in 2019 at the Hero? About two months later — and after a week where one pro said he was “building sand castles” — Reed was your WGC-Mexico Championship champion. There’s more. There’s this week. And ‘gates,’ plural. (That’s a lot of ‘gates,’ we know.)
On Monday, on the range at Emirates, we heard word that Reed, who plays golf for Saudi-backed LIV Golf, had tossed a tee in the direction of McIlroy, as much of a spokesman for the established brands as anyone. On Tuesday, we saw a clip of it. It was spicy, though harmless. Reed walked up to McIlroy, Harry Diamond, McIlroy’s caddie, and Michael Bannon, McIlroy’s coach, he shook hands with Diamond, he gestured toward McIlroy, McIlroy didn’t appear to notice — and Reed tossed a tee toward McIlroy, which we would find out later was a LIV Golf tee.
On Wednesday, after being asked about it, McIlroy said he didn’t see the tee, nor felt the need to talk to Reed, whose lawyer had subpoenaed him — on Christmas Eve — as part of his lawsuit against the PGA Tour. McIlroy added this: “I mean, I got a subpoena on Christmas Eve. I mean, I don’t see your — like you can’t pretend like nothing’s happening, right. I think that’s the thing. Like why — we are living in reality here. He’s — no, so …” To the Daily Mail, Reed said this: “He saw me and he decided not to react. It’s unfortunate,” Reed said. “But it is one of those things: if you’re going to act like an immature little child then you might as well be treated like one.”
Teegate was born. And then they played. And then there was Sunday. And Treegate came to life.
On 17, as mentioned above, Reed’s ball went right off the tee, toward the trio of trees, only it never came down. Was it in the one closest to the desert area? That’s where Reed identified it to be to a rules official, and he dropped there. Was it in the tree closest to the tee? That’s where Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee and a score of others thought his ball had nested — which meant that Reed was, well, maybe less accurate than his shot had been, and we’ll leave it at that.
But then he escaped the hole with a bogey.
And he birdied 18. You know where this is going.
Starting Monday four shots back of McIlroy (of course), Reed birdied 2, 3 and 6. He eagled 10. He birdied 11 and 13. And then, when, McIlroy bogeyed 15 in the group behind him, Reed was stunningly up one with just three holes to go.
“The good thing is I know who I am,” Reed told Golf Digest’s John Huggan afterward. “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.”
Controversy, then contention, though McIlroy was also using the Reed playbook.
We go deep into the whole Tour v. LIV thing, but an exchange McIlroy had on Wednesday will tell you what you need to know here. If you think Reed is playing him-against-the world golf, listen to this:
“Last year was a big political year for the game of golf, and you were front and center for that. Do you feel like you delivered what you delivered on the course in spite of or because of what was going on?”
“I would say a little bit of both,” McIlroy said. “I would say there parts of it were because of, and other parts just in spite of. I think I said a lot last year, and I wanted my actions to match my words.
“So there’s no point in just being a mouthpiece when you can’t back that up by playing good golf and showing people the rewards people can have out here if they are playing well. And it’s a merit-based system. That’s the thing that I’ve always struggled with: If a 5-year-old boy or girl know that they work hard and they shoot the scores, there’s a merit-based system in golf all the way through junior golf, amateur golf, all the way up to the professional level, and they can make it to the top levels of the game.
“And this is the one thing that’s come into the game that has disrupted that, and you’re not certain — you’re not certain to play on that league or that tour. It’s not a merit-based system, where I think golf has always been that, and I’ve always appreciated that about our game.”
That’s deep. In the end, McIlroy won. He went on his own run. Let’s go back to the start, and Reed’s tee shot on 16, the one momentarily lost. From there, he could only pitch back to the fairway, he bogeyed and his lead was short-lived. Then there was the tee shot on 17, the one that found its way into a bush. From there, Reed only parred.
In the group behind him, McIlroy birdied it. Reed birdied 18, though McIlroy matched him there, too, and he was the winner by a stroke.
“I think mentally today was probably one of the toughest rounds I’ve ever had to play because it would be really easy to let your emotions get in the way, and I just had to really concentrate on focusing on myself,” McIlroy told reporters. “Forget who was up there on the leaderboard, and I did that really, really well.
“I feel like I showed a lot of mental strength out there today.”
There’s more. Let’s end things with some finality on Treegate.
Afterward, Reed told Golf Digest’s Huggan that he hadn’t watched or read anything about the incident. If you take him for his word, that’s admirable, and there are some paragraphs above that would strongly suggest otherwise.
But guess who defended Reed? We’ll simply let you make your own takeaways.
“I felt it was fine,” McIlroy told Golf Digest’s Huggan. “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.”