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Rory McIlroy rules

‘I wasn’t aware the rule was changed’: How Rory McIlroy blundered at Pebble Beach

The four-time major champion was docked two shots after getting back-on-the-line relief wrong at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Our rules expert explains why

 

That’s one way to tumble down a leaderboard. But it wasn’t an errant shot that did for Rory McIlroy in the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

It was a rules error that could happen to any of you at your clubs – as the laws change and the Northern Irishman hadn’t kept up with the pace.

McIlroy was pinged two shots for taking a wrong drop on the par-5 7th at Spyglass Hill. It was his 16th hole of the day and the blunder turned a bogey into a triple.

Having been six under through 10 and leading the way, he finished the day in the middle of the bunch.

Rory fell foul of a change to the rules on back-on-the-line relief, so let’s take a look at the drama and see what he should have done…

Rory McIlroy rules

Rory McIlroy rules incident: Why did he pick up a penalty?

McIlroy’s renowned as golf’s greatest driver, but he stuck his tee shot left on the 7th and buried it in some thick grass under a pine tree.

He thought about trying to chip out, before deciding his ball was unplayable. He opted to take back-on-the-line relief, under Rule 19.2b, but didn’t know there had been a change at the start of 2023 in how you must take that relief.

Previously, you could go back and drop the ball one club-length away from the line. If it rolled forward you had to drop a second time.

Under the rule now, you have to drop the ball on the line itself and it must come to rest within a club-length in any direction of where it first touched that line.

When McIlroy did the former, unaware of the alterations, he had dropped the ball in a wrong way, under Rule 14.3b (4). You have to drop a ball in the right way and, once played his shot, he had played from a wrong place and got the general penalty.

The infraction was picked up on a video review and McIlroy learned of the error in the scorer’s tent before signing his card.

He explained: “I took an unplayable on 7 and I took it back on-line. Then unbeknownst to me, the rule changed in January 2023 where you used to be able to come back on line and a take a club length either side.

“That was changed in 2019 to be able to do that. I wasn’t aware that rule was changed again in 2023, so I took a drop thinking of the 2019 rules when everything was sort of changed – not knowing that the rule was changed again in 2023 – so got a two-stroke penalty there.”

Stephen Cox, PGA Tour chief referee, added to reporters: “The current rule, which was rewritten in January of 2023, requires the player to go back from where his ball was in line with the flag, this was certainly in his case, and then drop the ball on that line,” he said.

“The ball then, once dropped, can then roll up to a club length in any direction before a re-drop is required. That is the current rule.

“Unfortunately, Rory proceeded under the rules as they were pre-2023, which was you go back on the line and then you would measure one club length off the line in either direction as long as it was no nearer the hole and drop it within that club length. So, in other words, you could drop it off the line.”

Cox continued: “I think in Rory’s case, he was sort of operating in the old rules.

“As soon as I started talking to him about it, I think the penny dropped that he had proceeded under the old rules and he was totally accepting of the fact that he played from the wrong place and he got the two penalty strokes.”

Now have your say

What did you make of this Rory McIlroy rules incident? Have you been caught out in this way with back-on-the-line relief? Let me know with a comment on X.

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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