These days in professional golf it seems just about every week we're battling with some sort of rule that could change the course of a tournament. This week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship we had one of those rare moments where a high profile golfer got slammed with a two-shot penalty while he was also in contention for the championship.
Rory McIlroy was playing the second hole on Saturday at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club when he hit his tee shot into the rough. McIlroy's ball found the spectator crosswalk which is an automatic relief situation for the golfer with no penalty but that is where the goofiness began. McIlroy, knowing the rule, took relief, but in golf there is this saying of "full relief" meaning if you take some relief it has to be completely clear of the questionable area.
McIlroy thought he did so, but after completing his round which he thought was a 4-under 68 he was told by a caddie in the group that he might want to check with a rules official because he noticed that Rory was still standing in the designated "ground under repair" area when he hit his shot on No. 2 (full relief is defined as swing and stance).
Since the situation was tough to see on video, McIlroy and the European Tour rules officials went out to the spot on the second hole and after checking the divot by McIlroy came to the conclusion that his foot would have been over the line meaning a two-shot penalty was in order and that 68 turned into a 70.
The penalty is a dumb one, I think we can all agree on that, and it now knocks Rory from a final group pairing with leader Craig Lee to a spot three shots back with Phil Mickelson now sitting a shot ahead of Rory after his third round 63.
After the round, Rory was asked about the situation and was extremely honest and candid during this interview below.
Rory said "there are a lot of stupid rules in golf and this is one of them," and even admitted that when he dropped his ball on the second hole it ended up in a horrible lie, one he would have been able to pick up and re-drop if he had known he was standing over the relief line.
The good news for the game of golf is that this wasn't one of those situations where a fan called in the penalty on a top notch player, and you can't fault the caddie, Dave Renwick, because he was simply waiting until the end of the round in hopes of not disrupting the current round Rory was playing with some questionable news.
As Rory mentioned in the video above, all this does is get him more fired up to make a Sunday run and I think after something as silly as this, the hopes of golf fans around the world is that McIlroy can keep his head together and really go out on Sunday on a mission.
If nothing else, this will be a good early test of the mental fortitude of Rory McIlroy a year after he had his most testing season of his career.
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