Rory McIlroy heads into his Phoenix Open debut with a clean conscience after new information came to light following his rules incident at Torrey Pines last weekend.
The headlines from a controversial Saturday at the Farmers Insurance Open were dominated by Patrick Reed after he claimed his ball was embedded in the rough near the 10th green, although television evidence proved conclusively that his ball did not embed on the first bounce.
Reed was widely criticised for having already picked up his ball in preparation for a free drop before a rules official had made his way to the scene to discuss his options, but it was then revealed that McIlroy had been involved in a similar situation on the 18th.
However, McIlroy has now revealed that a course marshal admitted stepping on his ball as they were searching for it in the rough, which clears the Northern Irishman of any wrongdoing having already been given the green light by the PGA Tour.
Reed was incensed that he was getting abuse on social media following his latest brush with controversy while McIlroy was escaping the criticism, but it now appears that McIlroy was hard done by when he took a free drop for an embedded ball when he was actually entitled to place his ball as it had been stepped on.
“I obviously got dragged into it last week a little bit because of what happened with me on 18 on Saturday, which now it’s funny,” McIlroy said. “So what’s came to light is, an email was sent to the Tour on Monday saying my ball was stepped on to be found, but the volunteer didn’t tell me that on Saturday.
— Patrick Reed (@PReedGolf) January 31, 2021
“So that’s why I took embedded ball relief, because it was an embedded ball, but I didn’t know it had been stepped on at the time. Obviously the video came out on Sunday with my ball bouncing and then going in, and at that point I’m like, well, it must have went into its own pitch mark or something, because the ball was obviously plugged.
“Then it came to light on Monday that a volunteer had stepped on it and hadn’t told me, and that’s why the ball was embedded. I went to bed Sunday night sort of questioning whether I had done the right thing after seeing the video.
“And then it’s so weird, the Tour getting an email from a volunteer saying that he didn’t tell me at the time and he should have, but he stepped on the ball to find it. So I guess I also took the wrong relief because I should have taken relief for a stepped on ball, which means you can place it instead of drop it. At the time I didn’t have that information.
“I at least felt better about my actions knowing I did the right thing, that I did take relief for a ball that was embedded or stepped on. So it sort was nice that that came to light, because I was questioning myself on Sunday a little bit.
“It’s funny how these things all work out at the end.”
The Phoenix Open is famous for being one of the loudest venues in sport, with over 100,000 fans usually in attendance at TPC Scottsdale every day, and McIlroy admitted that playing a tournament in that atmosphere had put him off entering this event in the past.
Around 5,000 fans per day will be on site this week, and McIlroy added: “I think this year with less fans here it was certainly a more attractive option in terms of introducing myself to the tournament.
“It was my first time playing, getting a feel for how the course is, and if I like it, then I would be more willing to come back.
“And after seeing the golf course, I do love the golf course. I think it suits me really well. So I think I need to play at least one more and get the real experience.”