Patrick Reed caused yet more controversy on day three of the Dubai Desert Classic after video footage emerged that appeared to show his ball landing in a completely different tree to the one he took a penalty drop beside.
But on to the third round, and Reed and McIlroy were once again headline news.
Reed was involved in a rules controversy, while McIlroy raced into a three-shot lead as he goes in search of completing a Dubai Desert Classic hat-trick.
The controversial ruling came on the par-4 17th when Reed clattered his tee shot into a tree. Quite literally.
Reed's ball was lodged high up in a tree.
Scroll down below to watch what happened.
The issue - and big talking point on social media thereafter - was that video footage appeared to show Reed's ball landing in a different tree to the one he ending up taking his drop beside.
Had Reed not "identified" his ball then he would have had to go back to the tee to play his third shot.
Reed claimed after the round that he was "100%" sure he had seen his own golf ball with the assistance of binoculars.
"I would have gone back to the tee if I was not 100%," said Reed, who escaped with a bogey-five en route to a 69 leaving him four shots adrift of McIlroy, who fired a superb 65 (albeit with a bogey-six at the 18th).
While Reed was looking up at the tree to try to locate his ball, McIlroy was waiting back on the tee.
The DP World Tour has since issued a statement on the matter, which you can read in full below:
The biggest issue here was that there were already a number of golf balls lodged in the tree that was being closely inspected by Reed and officials.
But were they
barking looking up the wrong tree?
Anyway, here's the video so you can try to make your own mind up:
Patrick Reed identifies his ball in left of the 3 trees yet the tv camera clearly shows it going in the right hand tree?? Am I missing something pic.twitter.com/tOr3yTza14— Michael FarrierTwist (@michaelftwist) January 29, 2023
DP World Tour pro Matthieu Pavon was particularly confused by the ruling:
Wow wrong tree ?! Maybe optical illusion https://t.co/VlCCxZoqsR— Matthieu Pavon (@mattpavon) January 29, 2023
It's also fair to say DP World Tour commentator Tony Johnstone was not best pleased with the outcome of the drop:
He's since deleted that tweet, but has now tweeted this:
I watched the Reed incident live and now the facts have been clarified. He and the referee (and our guys are bloody good at what they do) were told by a few people which tree the ball went into. It was the wrong tree but that’s not the fault of the referee or player. Nice to know— Tony Johnstone (@TonyJohnstone56) January 29, 2023
The Telegraph's James Corrigan isn't quite buying the whole "100%" vibe, either:
— Tony Johnstone (@TonyJohnstone56) January 29, 2023
James Colgan of GOLF has shed some more light on Reed's ball markings, and the tree that allegedly held his ball:
Here's an image of the tree that allegedly held Reed's ball, as shown on Golf Channel's broadcast.— James Colgan (@jamescolgan26) January 29, 2023
Not clear if this is exactly where Reed spotted his ball, but as you can see, at least six golf balls (by my count) are lodged in the palm. pic.twitter.com/RRcKS24Apm
Reed now looks on from 11-under par and four shots behind McIlroy heading into the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic, which is being played on Monday as a result of inclement weather earlier in the week.
A number of other LIV Golf players are competing in the tournament, with Reed, Richard Bland and Ian Poulter performing best of the bunch so far, all at 11-under par.
Henrik Stenson, who was sacked as European Ryder Cup captain after joining LIV Golf last summer, faced the awkward proposition of playing alongside new European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald on day three.
Stenson got the upper hand with a 70 against Donald's 74, but the Swede looks on from the chasing pack at 4-under par.
Donald missed the third-round cut after finishing level par.
Tyrrell Hatton played alongside Stenson and Donald, and he shot 72 to remain 2-under par.
But at the top of the board it's World No.1 McIlroy who is sitting pretty thru 54 holes.
McIlroy, who won the DP World Tour Rankings title last year, is attempting to win his third Dubai Desert Classic in his first tournament of 2023.
Should he go on to win, it would mark his 15th tournament victory on the former European Tour circuit and his first since the 2019 WGC-HSBC Champions.
"It’s a great opportunity," said McIlroy, who finds himself at 15-under par and three shots ahead of English duo Callum Shinkwin and Dan Bradbury.
"First week back out, have a chance to win, it’s sort of what I wanted to do coming here.
"I think tomorrow will really show me where my game is, in the final group playing with a chance to win a golf tournament.
"I’m excited to see what happens."