Rory McIlroy felt he was a victim of “one of golf’s many silly rules” on Saturday when a two-shot penalty was imposed on him at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship for taking an incorrect drop.
McIlroy’s contention was that he did not gain any advantage from hitting the shot from where he did, and had he known the correct rules of full relief from ground under repair, which is what spectators’ pathways are deemed to be, he could have taken a re-drop to get a better lie and possibly have got a birdie on the par-5 second hole.
There are obviously two ways of looking at this. A golf purist would perhaps shrug and say rules are rules, but from a wider perspective of fans, this is just another one of the archaic rules that needs to be changed or abolished.
Fans with limited knowledge of the game, and that is a majority, are drawn by personalities to the golf course for tournaments.
Many of them were bewildered by the turn of events on Saturday, unable to fathom how McIlroy could have dropped down the leaderboard after posting a 68.
The first set of Rules of Golf was established way back in 1744 and to be fair, many rules have developed over the years. These are a collective wisdom of many experts of the game and cannot be ditched without proper debate.
But golf is in danger of shooting itself in the foot. It really is time the game’s governing bodies not only did away with some of these rules, but also make them simpler to understand for the fans.
When Ian Poulter dropped his ball on his marker during his playoff loss to Robert Karlsson in the DP World Tour Championship a couple of years ago, the marker did not jump several feet closer to the hole. When a player signs a card for a score higher than what he actually shot, he is already in pain. Why punish him further?
Similarly, why should a player suffer if his ball is moved by the wind?
However, I think McIlroy would do himself a favour if he took time to learn the rules. He casually dismissed a question from the media on whether he kept himself updated on the Rules of Golf, or refreshed his knowledge. McIlroy replied: “No, I guess that’s why we’ve got the referees here. They sort of do that stuff. I’ve got better things to think about.”
This is something that is intrinsic to their trade. It is imperative that players have excellent knowledge of the rules, otherwise they will be faced with more situations like this.
At least Dave Renwick, the caddie of McIlroy’s playing partner Ricardo Gonzalez, noticed the breach of rule. Gonzalez is obviously in very safe hands.
If McIlroy goes on to win the tournament from here, it will be a fantastic story. But if he falls short, let’s hope he doesn’t lose by one shot, because that would be a disaster for him and the sport of golf as a whole.
It took Phil Mickelson two days to warm up but by the end of his third round on Saturday, the American was sizzling hot as he stormed up the leaderboard with a majestic round of nine-under par 63.
When he finished his round, the leaders were about to tee off, and he was at the top of the leaderboard at 10-under par 206.
At the end of the day, the 43-year-old was two shots behind Craig Lee and in a position to start his season with a win.
They call him ‘Phil the Thrill’, and he lived up to that. He struggled off the tee, finding just seven fairways, but the magic of his short game, especially his magnificent putting, saved him. His play on the 18th hole summed up his day.
Mickelson drilled his drive into the fairway bunker, and then instead of laying up, decided to go for the green in two. What resulted was a slice that sailed into the left of the fairway, just short of the hospitality stands and in between the trees.
As the crowd groaned, expecting a bogey at the very least, Mickelson deliberately thinned a low wedge shot, in between the trees, and managed to reach the green.
Faced with a 50-footer putt for birdie, he dropped it nonchalantly as if he did it everyday for a living.
On that particular hole, Mickelson said: “Bones (his caddie) did not like the decision to try to reach the green out of the bunker, and I don’t blame him. It probably wasn’t my smartest play. But I don’t know, that’s just what I do.
The ball was sitting on a fairly hard, packed lie, I was able to go in steep and keep it low underneath the trees. I just drove a little pitching wedge, just thin it and keep it under the trees and gave myself a 45-, 50-footer… a putt that you don’t expect to make too often.
I had a good feel and it felt great to finish that way.” Mickelson said he benefitted from the wind coming from a different direction on Saturday compared to the first two rounds, and the fact that he progressively got in the groove with his swing.
“What I like is that it feels better each day. The first day, I felt terrible. I felt terrible off the tee. I felt terrible with the irons and my putter was awful,” said Mickelson, who made nine birdies and an eagle during his round.
“The second day, half of it started to come around and today it started to feel pretty good and hopefully I’ll be able to build on it again tomorrow and feel sharp.
I think the wind, although it was strong and it’s not easy, it’s in the opposite direction than the first two days and it’s much easier this direction.” Even though Mickelson has a chance to win the Falcon Trophy today, he feels the week has already been a success.
The reigning Open champion said: “I love the fact that I have a chance and that I’m in contention the first tournament out this year.
I love that I’ve played better each day. We’ve had nice weather to do it, and my swing is starting to feel sharper and sharper and I’m starting to feel more and more control with each swing as the week goes on.
That’s important as we start the year to build a solid foundation.
“I am excited about Sunday, because, heading into the Majors, let’s say in April, you want to have some opportunities to win golf tournaments.
“You want to feel that pressure, that nervousness and to be able to feel that in the first week of the year is awesome.”
Rory McIlroy has promised to come out all guns blazing on the final day after being slapped with a two-shot penalty in the third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Saturday.
The world No7 was deemed to be in breach of Rule 25-1 when he did not take full relief from a spectators’ pathway on the second hole of the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
McIlroy, who said he had “better things to think about” than keeping up to date with the rules, said: “I hit my second shot on the second into the left rough but on the spectator crosswalk.
“I took a drop and played my shot but I did not notice my left foot was still on the line and you need to take full relief.
“We went out to see it again and see my divot and it was clear I could not have played my shot with my feet anywhere else. It’s unfortunate. If anything it was a disadvantage because I dropped it in a bad lie and did not make birdie.
“It gives me a bit of extra motivation; not that winning this tournament isn’t motivation enough, but stuff like this, it’s sort of stupid.
There are a lot of stupid rules in golf and this is one of them.
“I guess I just have to try to make up those shots as early as possible tomorrow, try to get off to a fast start. I felt like I hung in there well and had a lot of opportunities on the back nine that I didn’t take. It was nice to birdie 18. It was all sort of in vain, so I’ll need to go out there and get off to a good one tomorrow.”
Asked how he was planning to get over his disappointment, McIlroy said: “I’m going to go and hit the gym so hard in about half an hour. I’m just going to go and run myself into the ground and try to get out some frustration. So, go to the gym, get some room service and lock myself away for the night and come out ready for tomorrow.”
McIlroy said there was no animosity towards Dave Renwick, the caddie of his playing partner Ricardo Gonzalez, who pointed out the rules infraction to him on the 18th green and asked him not to sign his card before checking.
He said: “Not at all. You have to adhere to the rules of this game and he was pointing out something he thought was questionable”.
Organisers have made a few changes to the final-round schedule in view of a thunderstorm forecast for the evening. Players will go out in three-balls instead of two and use both tees. The leadergroup will tee off at 10am.