Graeme McDowell could be forgiven for having a love-hate relationship with the rules of golf after incurring yet another bizarre penalty.
Needing a top-five finish in the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship, the Ulsterman came to his final hole at five under for his round having just holed a nine-iron from 155 yards for an eagle two at the eighth.
Bunkered at the ninth, he got up and down for what appeared to be a birdie four and a 66 but he already suspected he’d fallen foul of the rules and ended up signing for a bogey six and a round of 68 that left him tied 16th on four under, four shots behind the leaders.
The problem? He touched a loose impediment in a hazard.
“Yeah, disappointing way to end the day. I holed my second shot on 8 there, which was really nice, 155‑yard 9‑iron, one‑hopped it in, and I kind of spun out my second shot with a 9‑iron into the right trap, and a very unusual scenario when I’ve got a small branch behind my ball with a leaf attached to it, and in the process of addressing my golf ball, I grazed the top of the leaf, and I’m deemed to have touched a loose impediment in a hazard, which is a two‑shot penalty. Despite the fact that nothing has moved, the lie hasn’t improved, I just didn’t give the branch enough respect. I’ve never seen that scenario before.
Q. Were you aware of it at the time?
GRAEME McDOWELL: Getting into the bunker, my caddie said to me, “You know you can’t touch that branch, right?” I thought he meant of course I can’t remove that branch. I just didn’t give it enough respect, and the second that I grazed it, we both knew perhaps we might be in trouble. It was just kind of one of those moments where I’ve never seen that scenario before. It’s a tough lesson.”
That a top professional could be caught out by the rules in this way is surprising, especially when every shot is so precious and you have just followed a missed cut with a share of 74th in the first two playoff events.
“It’s a self-policing game but it hurts sometimes,” McDowell said ruefully in a television interview.
In fairness to the world No 15, he took his punishment on the chin, just as he did in Wentworth this year, or in last year’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral or the 2010 Honda Classic, to name but three.
At Wentworth he also had misgivings but was called out by a TV viewer anyway after causing his ball to move from six feet away as he attempted to determined its lie on a pile of sticks in the bushes right of the 18th.
Many players are experts on the rules, such as Padraig Harrington, who was able to tell McDowell exactly what to do when he found a sprinkler head between his ball and the pin when just off the green in this year’s Irish Open.
McDowell was told to go ahead an ask a rules official anyway, after all, Harrington has had his own mishaps with the rules over the years.
Knowing the rule could have saved McDowell two precious shots on this occasion. So while he gets top marks for integrity again, he’s learning the hard way.
As for Harrington, the Dubliner shot a two under 70 that does little for his chances of making the top 30 who will play in the Tour Championship.