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Failing to Take Complete Relief

Posted: 1/22/2014

Why was Rory McIlroy penalized for a drop he took at a recent PGA European Tour event in Abu Dhabi?

When Rory McIlroy holed out on the 18th green at the end of the third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, he believed he had shot a 68. But before he left the putting green, Ricardo Gonzalez’s caddie, Dave Renwick, told him that he thought that Rory might have played from a wrong place on the second hole. What happened?

McIlroy’s second shot on the par-5 second hole came to rest in the left rough short of the green. The ball was in an area that the gallery was using to cross the hole. Because such areas incur an unusual amount of damage from foot traffic, the PGA European Tour marks them as ground under repair. This area was marked by a line painted on the ground. 

McIlroy decided to take relief as allowed under Rule 25-1b(i) (Abnormal Ground Conditions – Relief). Rule 25-1a defines interference from an abnormal ground condition as occurring when the player’s lie, stance or area of intended swing is interfered with by the condition in question. You can learn more about the Rules regarding abnormal ground conditions by watching this video from the USGA Rules of Golf Explained series.

In taking relief from an abnormal ground condition, the player must determine the nearest point of relief that gives him complete relief from all interference from the area in question. To learn more about the nearest point of relief, watch this USGA video. Once the player has determined his nearest point of relief, he must drop the ball within one club-length of that point in a position that still gives him complete relief from the abnormal ground condition.

Even once the ball has been dropped in a correct location, the player must still ensure that it does not end up in a location where it must be re-dropped as required by Rule 20-2c (Dropping and Re-Dropping; When to Re-Drop). There are a number of areas where the ball could come to rest that would require a re-drop. In McIlroy’s case, the ball came to rest in a position where his stance was back inside the area of ground under repair. Since Rule 25 gives the player relief for his stance, in taking relief, the player must ensure that his stance is outside the area after he has dropped the ball. Under Rule 25-1b, he had not taken complete relief and was required to re-drop the ball.

After Renwick told McIlroy of his concerns, Rory met with European Tour Rules official John Paramor and, along with Renwick, they went back to the second hole. The divot that Rory had created when he made his stroke was found and it became apparent that he had not taken complete relief.

Since McIlroy did not re-drop the ball, but played it from the location with his foot in the area of ground under repair, he played from a wrong place. The penalty is two strokes, which changed his score for the round to 70.

In telling McIlroy of his concerns before Rory returned his score card, Renwick saved Rory from a potential disqualification penalty for returning an incorrect score card, had the incident otherwise come to light before the tournament concluded. McIlroy shot a final-round 68 the next day to finish the tournament in a tie for second with Phil Mickelson, one stroke behind Pablo Larrazabal of Spain.

The USGA will provide up to two Rules of Golf books for minimal shipping and handling charge. Please contact the USGA Order Department at 1-800-336-4446, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (ET) or go to the USGA Shop on usga.org.


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