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Patrick Reed ends up in another golf rules dispute before winning Farmers Insurance Open

Patrick Reed shows off his trophy after winning the Farmers Insurance Open. (Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

In winning the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday, Patrick Reed shrugged off another rules controversy during Saturday’s third round.

Reed had sparked chatter on CBS’s telecast and throughout the golf world when he picked up a ball he claimed was embedded and played it from another lie after a free drop. Replays, which showed the ball bounced at least once before ending up in the spot from which Reed took it, caused some to question his version of events and say he lost the benefit of the doubt.

After winning the tournament at Torrey Pines in San Diego by five strokes over five other players, Reed reiterated his assertions that event officials told him everything he did was fine. As for being able to maintain his focus in the final round following a widespread outcry, he said: “I felt fine. I felt great throughout the day.”

Not everyone felt quite so good about his victory.

Xander Schauffele, who was among the group that came in a distant second, said of the controversy, “Obviously, the talk amongst the boys isn’t great, but he’s protected by the tour and that’s all that matters, I guess.”

The episode unfolded when Reed, who won the 2018 Masters and has faced cheating accusations in the past, sent his approach shot Saturday at the 10th hole into the rough. Reed picked it up before a rules official arrived, telling the official that no one in his group nor a nearby volunteer had seen it bounce. Rules state a golfer can take a free drop for a ball embedded anywhere except for sandy areas.

At issue, however, was the bounce, which would make it unlikely to have become embedded. Ken Tackett, a rules official, told CBS that because it had been determined that the ball was embedded on a course that had been softened by rain, it did not matter whether it had bounced. As CBS’s Nick Faldo and others pointed out, it seemed unusual for the ball to have become embedded after a bounce, and CBS’s Jim Nantz called the whole thing “a bad look.”

“At that point, when you have three players, three caddies and the volunteer’s really close to the golf ball not seeing the ball bounce, then you have to go by what everyone sees and what everyone saw,” Reed said (via the Golf Channel). “When no one has seen that, then the rules official basically say whether it’s free relief or not, and the rules official agreed that the ball has broken the plane and it was relief.”

Reed acknowledged after the third round that the situation was “unfortunate” but defended his actions. “At the end of the day when you finish a round and the head rules official comes up to you and has the video and shows everything that went down to the whole group and says that you’ve done this perfectly, you did this the exact right way, the protocols you did were spot on, at that point, you know, I feel great about it,” he told reporters.

He added that “the ball just disappeared. None of us saw it bounce.” The volunteer who was nearby confirmed that to him, he said. “I looked at my group [Will Gordon and Robby Shelton] and said, ‘Guys, she didn’t see it bounce it, either, so I’m going to mark this ball and see if it’s embedded.’ ”

Brad Fabel, the tour rules official, determined Reed was allowed relief, so he cleaned the ball and dropped it within a club length. He parred the hole and, with a third-round 70, was tied with Carlos Ortiz for the lead.

“At that point we go with what the rules official said and also with what the volunteers and what we see,” Reed said. “When we’re out there, we can’t see everything and when that happens, you have to go with what the volunteers say and what the rules officials say, and when all comes to push and shove, we felt like we did the right thing and the rules official said we did absolutely perfectly.”

Tackett pointed out that there were a lot of “variables” and added that Reed “did all the things we ask to do of a player. It’s obviously difficult, and you get to second-guessing when [seeing the] video.”

A similar thing happened to Rory McIlroy on his final hole of the day, something that Reed or the person who runs his social media account pointed out. “RORY MCILROY DID THE SAME THING TODAY ON HOLE 18! AND DIDN’T EVEN CALL A RULES OFFICIAL OVER TO DEEM THE BALL EMBEDDED,” his official Twitter account announced. “END OF STORY.”

McIlroy said after the round that he had asked a marshal if the ball had bounced and was told that no one had seen it do so. McIlroy told his playing partner, Rory Sabbatini, that he was going to see if the ball was embedded, determined that it was and took free relief.

On Sunday morning, the PGA Tour sought to put the issue to rest, saying in a statement that officials “have reviewed the Rory McIlroy videos from No. 18 yesterday and determined that it was virtually the same situation that Patrick Reed faced on No. 10 during the third round. It was reasonable for both players to conclude — based on the fact that they did not see the ball land but given the lie of the ball in soft course conditions — that they proceed as the rule allows for a potential embedded ball.

“They marked, lifted and assessed the situation to determine if the ball was embedded. Patrick went one step further and called in a Rules Official to be sure his assessment would not be questioned (although this step is not required). Both players took proper relief under the Rule 16/3. The Committee is comfortable with how both players proceeded given the fact that they used the evidence they had at the time.”

McIlroy got a benefit of the doubt that Reed did not in part because of his past actions. In the 2019 Hero World Challenge, officials found Reed had “improved his lie” by dragging his club back while taking practice swings. He was penalized two strokes, and the incident followed him onto the course the following week during Presidents Cup play. The taunts from fans in Australia grew so intense that Kessler Karain, his caddie and brother-in-law, got into an altercation with a spectator and was suspended for the final day.

Reed’s commitment to fair play has been questioned at other times, too, including during his college days, accusations that he has denied. Video from 2015 in the Bahamas seemed to show Reed placing the club directly behind the ball in a waste area. In 2018 at Bay Hill, he tried to get relief from a palmetto bush and, when he was twice denied, said, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth.” A year ago, an attorney for Reed demanded that Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee stop calling him a cheater.

Reed shot 14 under for the tournament and notched the largest margin of victory of his nine wins on the PGA Tour.

“My biggest takeaway is that, mentally, I hung in there and stayed to the course,” he said afterward.

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