The Mystery of the Abu Dhabi Rules Triangle
By: Ross Starkey

It happened last year with Tiger Woods who fell foul of another straightforward ruling and experienced much backlash from his lack of rules knowledge. But was it really a straightforward rule?

When Tiger Woods hit his drive into deep brush to the right of the fairway, he immediately consulted with playing partner Martin Kaymer and both agreed Woods could take a free drop for an embedded lie (a local rule). What wasn't clear to either Woods or Kaymer, was that this area containing plant foliage was known locally to be a sandy area, meaning there was no allowance for a free drop. This error meant Woods being handed a two-stroke penalty and he missed the cut by one.

[does this look like a sand bunker?]

McIlroy's two-stroke penalty for failing to take appropriate relief from a spectator walkway seemed a bit easier to understand, but he was even more disappointed after his third round:

“I'm going to run myself into the ground to try to get some of the frustration out. There are a lot of stupid rules in golf and this is one of them.“

Those two shots ultimately cost him the tournament and finished behind eventual winner Pablo Larrazabal, by just a single shot. But who was to blame? Should he have known better, should his caddie have used better counsel? Were the rules officials not on hand to monitor this mistake? The ruling was such:

After taking legitimate relief from a spectator walkway on the 2nd, it was deduced by the tournament referee that McIlroy played a shot with his left foot touching the walkway. The result? A two-shot penalty for a livid Northern Irishman before he signed his card. He had not taken full relief from the walkway that was deemed Ground Under Repair.

The tournament referee, John Paramour summed it up, "he has not taken full relief and he is in breach of the Rule 25/1, the penalty for which is two strokes."

In this situation, you just have to blame both player and caddie. Taking relief IS the same as taking full relief, there is no halfway relief or part relief. McIlroy should have known better, his caddie should have known better. Most golfers accustomed to areas of ground under repair, or any other situation requiring full relief, would have known better.

What's interesting is that another caddie, Dave Renwick (Ricardo Gonzalez's caddie), happened to be close enough to see all this and take note that McIlroy was still standing over (or at least on) the GUR line when he hit it - and he certainly DID know the rules!

Perhaps the reasons that more golfers fall foul of the rules in the desert is that the event is played so early in the calendar the players aren't up to speed. Maybe there are more local rules on desert course than elsewhere. Perhaps that is just an excuse too.

What is clear is the top professionals need to be aware of the right and wrong way of applying the rules of golf because one day it will cost someone a major - wait hasn't that happened already?