Rory McIlroy suffers bizarre two-shot penalty for a rare golf rule during his opening round at AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, with the world No 2 admitting he didn’t know the law had changed!

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Rory McIlroy endured a nightmare ending to his opening round at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am after the world No 2 was handed a two-shot penalty for an improper drop.

The Northern Irishman admitted on Thursday afternoon that he wasn’t aware the rules had changed after he had been informed of the penalty in the scoring tent after signing his card. 

McIlroy had started his round in fine form, taking the lead after 10 holes hitting six birdies, before carding two bogeys and a double bogey to wrap up his day at one-under par, eight shots off the leader Thomas Detry. 

After teeing off at the seventh hole at Spyglass Hill, the four-time major winner found himself stuck behind a tree.

McIlroy ultimately opted to take a drop after declaring that his ball was unplayable and was seen on the PGA Tour’s coverage of the event calculating a refrence line back from the hole. 

Rory McIlroy suffered a bizarre two-shot penalty after he took an illegal drop at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday

Rory McIlroy suffered a bizarre two-shot penalty after he took an illegal drop at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Thursday

McIlroy subsequently admitted that he didn't know the rules had changed after his round

McIlroy subsequently admitted that he didn’t know the rules had changed after his round 

He was subsequently penalised for an incorrect ball placement under Rule 19.2b of the USGA’s laws on an unplayable ball after he had taken relief to the right of his club-length reference line. If McIlroy had hit dropped his ball within this line, he would have not incurred the penalty.

‘So I took an unplayable on 7 and I took it back online,’ McIlroy said to reporters after the round. ‘Then 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. 

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USGA Rules on relief on unplayable balls 

Rule 19.2(b) Relief Options for Unplayable Ball in General Area or on Putting Green

The player may drop the original ball or another ball (see Rule 14.3) behind the spot of the original ball, keeping the spot of the original ball between the hole and the spot where the ball is dropped (with no limit as to how far back the ball may be dropped). The spot on the line where the ball first touches the ground when dropped creates a relief area that is one club-length in any direction from that point, but with these limits:

Limits on Location of Relief Area:

  • Must not be nearer the hole than the spot of the orignal ball, and
  • May be in any area of the course, but
  • Must be in the same area of the course that the ball first touched when dropped.

‘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.

Explaining the decision, rules official Stephen Cox stated that the error had been spotted by one of the USGA’s video review officials and that under pre-2023 rules, McIlroy’s drop would have been permitted.  

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‘Well, it came to light through our video review group that by the fact that he took a club length out measuring that he may have not proceeded correctly under back-on-the-line relief. 

‘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. 

‘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. And all of us within the game, including the governing bodies, were very uncomfortable once the rule was written, which was back in 2019 and we subsequently put sort of a bit of a band-aid on that one to try to protect the player. 

‘So there was always intentions to rewrite it, which happened, and they were introduced in Jan 2023. 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.’

Rules official Stephen Cox (right) explained the ruling after the round and added McIlroy was 'totally accepting' of the error

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Rules official Stephen Cox (right) explained the ruling after the round and added McIlroy was ‘totally accepting’ of the error 

The world No 2 finished one-under for the day, eight shots back from the leader in T39

The world No 2 finished one-under for the day, eight shots back from the leader in T39

Thomas Detry raced ahead of the pack to take the lead on Thursday going -9, one shot clear of Patrick Cantlay on -8

Thomas Detry raced ahead of the pack to take the lead on Thursday going -9, one shot clear of Patrick Cantlay on -8

Despite the nightmare finish to his round, McIlroy delivered a mostly positive assessment of his game. 

‘I feel like my game’s in really good shape,’ the Northern Irishman said. ‘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. 

‘I played really well for the first 14 holes and then obviously had a bit of a bad finish there. But for the most of it I hit the ball pretty well. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. Had that run of holes on 6, 7 and 8, but I mean apart from that, I actually played very well.’ 

Detry currently leads the way at the tournament in California on -9 having enjoyed a fantastic start hitting 10 birdies and one bogey. Patrick Cantlay and Matthieu Pavon follow close behind on -8 and -7 respectively. 

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