ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates –– If not for what he called a “stupid” rules violation, Rory McIlroy would be playing in the last group in the final round of the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
McIlroy incurred a two-stroke penalty for violation of Rule 25-1 (“Abnormal Ground Conditions”), turning an apparent 4-under 68 to a 70 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. He stands three strokes behind leader Craig Lee of Scotland, who shot 69 for a 12-under 204 total.
McIlroy took relief on the second hole when his ball came to rest on a spectator walkway. However, in taking his stance, his left foot was on the line demarcating the abnormal ground condition when he played his next shot. Cue the two-shot penalty.
“I didn’t notice that my left foot was still on the white line as I took the shot, and you have to take complete relief,” McIlroy said. “It’s disappointing because I didn’t gain any advantage by my foot being on a bit of white paint.
“There’s a lot of stupid rules in golf, and this is one of them.”
Veteran caddie Dave Renwick, who works for McIlroy’s third-round playing competitor, Ricardo Gonzalez, noticed the violation. Renwick informed McIlroy on the 18th green before the Northern Irishman signed his scorecard. Renwick, McIlroy and European Tour chief referee John Paramor revisited the spot to confirm the violation.
“Rory’s ball came to rest in a marked gallery crosswalk to the left of the second fairway from which relief is available under the rules,” Paramor said. “When he actually stood to the ball, his left foot was standing on or just over the line demarking the area of ground under repair. Therefore he has not taken complete relief, and he is in breach of Rule 25-1.”
It’s not the first time McIlroy has fallen foul of the Rules of Golf in Abu Dhabi. Two years ago, he was docked two shots for brushing sand from the fringe of the ninth green. On that occasion, McIlroy described the rule (Rule 13-2, “Improving Lie, Area of Intended Stance or Swing, or Line of Play”) as “tricky.”
McIlroy, 24, a two-time major winner isn’t about to brush up on the 34 laws of the game any time soon. “That’s what we have referees for,” McIlroy said when asked if he kept up to date with the rules of golf. “I’ve got better things to do with my time.”
American Phil Mickelson is just two shots off the lead, tied for second with India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar at 10-under 206, after a third-round 63. After two rounds of indifferent golf, the reigning Open champion shook off the cobwebs from an eight-week layoff to climb into contention.
“I hit a lot of good shots and putted really well to make that many birdies,” Mickelson said.
He signed off his round with an outrageous birdie at the par-5 18th hole. Bunkered off the tee, Mickelson tried to go for the green from 230 yards despite reservations from caddie Jim “Bones” MacKay.
The five-time major winner carved his second shot into the desert well short of the green. He had to play a low shot under a palm tree, but got the ball onto the green, then holed a 45-foot putt.
“Bones did not like the decision to try to reach the green out of the bunker, and I don’t blame him,” Mickelson said. “It wasn’t probably my smartest play.
“My swing is starting to feel sharper and sharper. I’m starting to feel more and more control with each swing.
“Heading into the majors, you want to have some opportunities to win golf tournaments. You want to feel pressure, that nervousness, and to be able to feel that the first week of the year is awesome.”
Mickelson left the golf course feeling upbeat about winning the tournament. In contrast, McIlroy left for the gym looking to vent his fury.
“I’m just going to go and run myself into the ground and try to get out some frustration,” McIlroy said.
Two years ago, McIlroy’s rules mishap cost him the tournament. He finished second, one shot behind Robert Rock.
McIlroy will be hoping another silly mental error doesn’t cost him his first win in Abu Dhabi.