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Rafa’s Big Break March 30, 2016 By Joe Foley, USGA

Rafa Cabrera Bello advanced to the Dell Match Play semifinals thanks to his sharp play. He received a fortuitous break during the Round of 16. (USGA/Joel Kowsky)

In the Round of 16 of last weekend’s World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play at Austin (Texas) Country Club, Rafa Cabrera Bello pulled his tee shot on the par-3 11th hole into the rough on a steep bank left of the green. For a few moments, it looked like Cabrera Bello would be facing a tough up-and-down to save par. But a stroke of good fortune changed everything.

After several seconds, Cabrera Bello’s ball rolled onto the green, toward a group of unsuspecting ducks.  

When a ball at rest is moved by a player, another ball or an outside agency, the ball must be replaced according to Rule 18. In this case, though, it’s unclear why the ball started to move down the slope. Perhaps it was due to wind or gravity, neither of which is considered to be an outside agency. For this reason, Cabrera Bello is required to play the ball from where it came to rest. Decision 18-1/12 provides guidance in a similar situation, where a ball in play is moved by wind and the player is required to play the ball from its new position.

Now what would have happened if Cabrera Bello’s ball had struck one of the six ducks walking on the putting green? Decision 19-1/6 gives us that answer. If it had simply been deflected by one of them, it would be played from its new spot. If it was instead picked up by one of the ducks and moved to a different spot, Cabrera Bello would place the ball as close as possible to the spot from where it was lifted. In either case, the player would not be penalized. And neither would the duck.

While it took a little longer than usual, Cabrera Bello hit the green in regulation and two-putted for par to halve the hole and remain 4 up in his match with Byeong-Hun An. Cabrera Bello would ultimately prevail in the match by concession on the following hole.  

Joe Foley is the manager of rules outreach and programming for the USGA. Email him at

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