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Rory McIlroy suffers two-shot penalty for taking a wrong drop

February 01, 2024
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Ezra Shaw

PEBBLE BEACH — Rory McIlroy went from the top of the leaderboard to the bottom half of the field in a matter of a few holes Thursday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the victim of his own poor play and a misunderstanding of the rules that cost him another two strokes on his scorecard.

McIlroy, the No. 2 player in the world, reached six under par and was two shots clear of the field after 14 holes at Spyglass Hill Golf Course before a disastrous stretch compounded by a two-stroke penalty on the 549-yard par-5 seventh hole.

McIlroy pulled his tee shot into the left rough underneath a tree and opted to take an unplayable lie. In taking relief, he walked back several yards away from the foliage in line with the hole, but he erred when he then dropped one club length to the right, which gave him a clear shot up the fairway. The rule change, initiated in 2023, stipulates that a dropped ball can come to rest within one club length in any direction—even forward. But the drop has to originate on a line from the flagstick, according to model local rule E-12 as part of modifications to rules 14.3b, 16.1c(2), and 17.1d(2).

McIlroy learned of the penalty in the scoring trailer. He was given a triple-bogey 8 on the hole instead of a bogey. He also bogeyed Nos. 6 and 8 and signed for a one-under 71, eight strokes off the lead of Thomas Detry.

“Unbeknownst to me, the rule changed in January 2023 where you used to be able to come back online, take a club length either side,” said McIlroy, making his season debut on the PGA Tour after a win and a second-place finish to begin the year on the DP World Tour. “That was changed in 2019 to be able to do that. I wasn't aware that 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.”

So, the Northern Irishman was either one or five years late on keeping up on the rules for taking relief from an unplayable lie. But, granted, when rules 14, 16 and 17 are all incorporated into a new model local rule, the alphabet soup can get confusing.

“It was a good round until the last few holes,” said the Northern Irishman, forcing a smile.

“I feel like my game's in really good shape,” McIlroy, 34, added. “I'm hitting it well, feel comfortable around the greens, on the greens. Yeah, game feels in good shape. It was just one of those -- I just let it -- I had a really score and then just sort of let it get away from me those last few holes.”