Rory McIlroy thought a clump of sand was a pebble, and it nearly cost him two strokes

Jack Baer
JERSEY CITY, NJ - AUGUST 09: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and his caddie walk off the fifth tee box during the second round of THE NORTHERN TRUST at Liberty National Golf Club on August 9, 2019 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)
It was an eventful bunker trip for Rory McIlroy at the Northern Trust. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Only in golf can a fateful few grains of sand alter the course of an entire round. Fortunately for Rory McIlroy, his misstep didn’t turn out to be too costly.

During the second round of the Northern Trust on Friday, McIlroy found himself in quite the rules quandary when he attempted to remove a loose pebble near his ball in a bunker on the par-3 14th hole. That pebble turned out to be a clump of sand, which you’re not allowed to move.

McIlroy self-reported the infraction and was assessed a two-stroke penalty, which he later told the PGA Tour he accepted because he didn’t want to hold up play. That would have been a bad look given that he had complained about pace of play on the Tour just two days ago.

McIlroy later consulted with PGA rules official Slugger White after the round and managed to talk his way out of the penalty.

All it took was a promise to the officials that he didn’t improve his lie with the adjustment.

“They sort of went back and forth a little bit, and then it came down to me and they said, OK, are you comfortable telling us you didn't improve your lie, and for me, I am comfortable saying that,” McIlroy told the Golf Channel.

McIlroy eventually finished 3-under for the day to put him in a five-way tie for seventh place at 9-under. Dustin Johnson, who is extraordinarily familiar with sand mishaps like McIlroy’s, leads at 12-under.

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