Reed, who has been at the center of several rules controversies throughout his career, found himself embroiled in yet another one at last week's Dubai Desert Classic.
During the third round, Reed's drive on the 17th hole at Emirates Golf Club got stuck in a tree and required binoculars to be identified. The ball was eventually found after a long search, allowing Reed to avoid playing a third shot from the tee, but several onlookers questioned whether the ball really could have been identified via binoculars, considering there were several other balls stuck in the same tree.
The insinuation is that Reed could not have been "100% certain" it was his ball as he claimed, but to everyone's surprise, McIlroy was quick to defend him on this point - even going so far as to suggest people were unfairly stirring up controversy because Reed was the player involved.
"I felt it was fine," McIlroy said. "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. I don't feel like he was trying to get any advantage."
McIlroy has indeed defended Reed for similar controversies in the past, but he would have been forgiven for not doing so on this occasion, considering how fractious their relationship has become.
The duo now firmly sit on opposite sides of the fence in the ongoing civil war between golf's traditional powers and the rival LIV Golf Tour, of which Reed is now a member.
To make matters worse, Reed is now pursuing a legal battle against the PGA Tour, and McIlroy did not take kindly to being served with a subpoena to appear in court by Reed's attorneys on Christmas eve.
When the American came over to McIlroy to shake his hand prior to the start of the tournament in Dubai last week, cameras caught the Northern Irishman giving him the cold shoulder, with Reed appearing to flick a tee in McIlroy's direction shortly after.
To McIlroy's credit, however, he continues to call issues involving Reed as he sees them, even if that means coming to the former Masters champion's defence.
McIlroy notably did it once before at the 2019 Hero World Challenge when Reed was penalized two strokes for appearing to move sand behind the ball as he took two practice swings inside a bunker.
"I don't think it would be a big deal if it wasn't Patrick Reed," McIlroy said. "It's almost like, a lot of people within the game, it's almost like a hobby to sort of kick him when he's down. It's hard, because you try to give the player the benefit of the doubt, right?"
Nevertheless, McIlroy could not deny that winning his final-round battle with Reed in Dubai thanks to a clutch closing birdie at the 72nd hole, made for a particularly sweet victory.
"Did I want to win? Yes. Was there added incentive because of who was up there? Absolutely," he said.