'Patrick Reed controversy puts big target on his back for Presidents Cup'

Presidents Cup captains Ernie Els and Tiger Woods
No kangaroos were harmed in the taking of this photo

Patrick Reed needs to practise his "shushing" after last week's rules controversy in the Bahamas which resulted in the American getting a two-stroke penalty.

Australian sports fans are waiting for Reed, a wildcard selection in Tiger Woods' US team for the Presidents Cup which starts at Royal Melbourne on Thursday.

As generations of English cricketers will testify, the Aussie sporting public does not hold back in generating hostile atmospheres. Indeed, they are even prepared to turn on their own if they are found guilty of rules-breaking.

Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft felt plenty of heat from their home cricket support for the infamous sandpaper ball tampering affair of 2018.

Now the issue is sand on a golf course and Reed's illegal movement of it to improve his lie. It puts a big target on his back for this week's match against Ernie Els' International team.

"I hope the crowd absolutely gives it to not only him but everyone (from the US team) next week," said Australian Cameron Smith, who is one of the dozen players in the opposing team for the Ryder Cup-style event.

It stems from Reed's penalty on the 11th hole of his second round at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas last Friday.

His ball was lying in an unruly footprint in a sandy waste. Video evidence showed him addressing it at the start of a practice swing, then in the process of taking back his wedge he pushed sand away with the back of the club.

He did it twice before making his shot and was later given the penalty, said PGA Tour referee Slugger White, for "improving his line of play".

White, incongruously, added Reed "could not have been more of a gentleman" while the penalty was imposed.

The 2018 Masters champion is no stranger to controversy and the footage went viral, earning mass condemnation from his peers and golf fans around the world.

Marc Leishman, another opponent in this week's Presidents Cup, called Reed's actions "pretty ordinary".

It was put to the Australian that home fans may be tempted to bring shovels to goad Reed, the man known as "Captain America" for Ryder Cup exploits.

"There are opportunities there, put it that way," Leishman said. "Maybe not shovels, but I think he's definitely opened a door there, that he's brought it on himself."

Reed famously "shushed" the Gleneagles crowds during a stirring Ryder Cup debut in 2014. He became the pantomime villain of American golf, but this is a much more serious situation.

Reed claims the camera angle behind the ball may have been deceptive, but the evidence is damning and his actions are contrary to the principles of how golf should be played.

Cameron Smith was far from impressed. "If you make a mistake once you can maybe understand, but to give a response like the camera angle - I mean, that's pretty up there," he said.

The 26-year-old, who has top five finishes in the Masters and US Open, added: "I don't have any sympathy for anyone that cheats.

"I know Pat pretty well and he's always been pretty nice to me so I don't want to say anything bad about him but for anyone cheating the rules, I'm not up for that."

Patrick Reed playing in the Bahamas
When asked by a reporter if he feels like he sometimes gets a raw deal, Reed replied: "Of course I do."

This is in keeping with the traditions of golf where the culture is zero tolerance of deliberate rule-breakers. It is customary for players to call penalties on themselves.

And the timing gives this affair more resonance by providing the Presidents Cup with added edge. Many would contend it is much needed.

Rarely does this match between the Americans and the rest of the world outside Europe possess the competitive bite and intensity of a Ryder Cup. But this one threatened to be different, even before the Reed affair.

Woods' captaincy of the US team and the fact that he will play as well offers an extra dimension.

The fact that he is up against Els is also an enticing dynamic because the South African suffered more than most when Woods was at the height of his powers between 1997 and 2008 when Woods won 14 of his 15 majors.

Els would dearly love to inspire his underdog team to only their second victory in these biennial matches which stretch back to the inaugural contest in 1994.

On paper the Americans appear much stronger but many of their players have played very little competitive golf since the end of the PGA Tour season in August.

Dustin Johnson has not played at all, world number one Brooks Koepka is injured and his replacement Rickie Fowler played only last week's Hero Challenge in this period.

Woods also has to work out how to use Reed. Who will want to partner him? Could captain and player reprise their catastrophic combination at last year's Ryder Cup?

Patrick Cantlay is perhaps the most likely candidate given the two Patricks partnered each other in the New Orleans Classic earlier this year. Then again, they failed to make the cut.

Meanwhile the internationals are clearly up for the battle. Even before the Reed incident last week, Adam Scott was whipping up support, calling on Aussie fans not to be too respectful of Woods.

"Last time it was too friendly," Scott said. "Quite bluntly, we want the home-crowd advantage, and I'll be disappointed if they are cheering enthusiastically for Tiger or anyone on the US team."

The match takes place on one of the greatest layouts in the world, the composite course at Royal Melbourne. The US lost there for the only time in a Presidents Cup, but eight years ago the US enjoyed a four-point win on the same course.

This one could be close and will be fascinating for a host of reasons, not just the Reed factor.

How Cantlay and Xander Schauffele fare will be interesting with next year's Ryder Cup in mind and whether Woods' captaincy inspires or inhibits is another compelling plot-line.

Often the Presidents Cup can be a bit "meh", especially from a European perspective - but I suspect this one will be well worth watching.

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