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OGA Rules InDepth - McIlroy at Abu Dhabi

On the 9th hole of round 2 at the Abu Dhabi Championships, Rory McIlroy found himself adding a two-stroke penalty to his score for a breach of Rule 13-2.  Before understating any Ruling, you must know the facts of the situation.  If you perform a quick web search, unfortunately, most articles will state that McIlroy incurred the penalty because he removed sand from the putting green when his ball was not on the putting surface – not only is this not what happened but this action is permitted under the Rules of Golf!

So what actually happened?  McIlroy’s ball was a couple of yards off the putting surface.  In the Rules of Golf, his ball was through the green.  The Rules were breached when he moved sand, on his line of play, off the green.  Rule 13-2 prohibits improving your line of play by moving sand, unless the sand is located on the putting green.  It is irrelevant where the ball is located; however, paramount is the location of the sand.  Sand (and loose soil) is defined as a loose impediment only when located on the putting green (see definition of loose impediment).

Sand on the putting green is OK to move.

Sand off the putting green – not OK to move if it will improve your lie, stance, swing, line of play or where you will drop or place a ball (also see Rule 13-4 - ball in hazard; prohibitted actions).

As the sand was not on the putting surface, and the sand that was moved was located on his line of play, he incurred the two-stroke penalty under Rule 13-2.

Though I did not see the telecast, Barry Rhodes ( mentioned that the commentator thought the sand may have come from a recent bunker shot of Tiger Woods, his fellow-competitor.  If this was the case, in equity McIlroy would be entitled to his line of play and would have been permitted to remove the sand (see Decision 13-2/8.5).  However, this does not appear to be the case as I am certain that the Committee would have reviewed the tapes to ensure the correct Ruling was made.

The OGA is a national leader in Rules of Golf Education.  Our 2012 offerings include the traditional Club Presentations as well as more thorough On-Course Rules Clinics, 2 and 4 day Rules Workshops and ride-a-longs at tournament sites for individuals aspiring to become officials.  The OGA’s current 2012 Rules Education schedule can be viewed by clicking here.

Craig Winter serves as the Director of Junior Golf and Rules Education for the Oregon Golf Association and achieved perfect scores on both the 2010 and 2011 PGA/USGA Rules of Golf Exams.



Crazy Rules !!! Can’t you sweep or brush sand out in front of your ball if it is sand that has come out of a bunker from other players?

By GREG SMITH on 01/29/2012



If the sand is located off of the putting green and moving it will imrpove your next play, very rarely.  However, in the specific situation laid out in decision 13-2/8.5, it would be permitted (the decision is linked in this post above).

Thank you for your interest in the Rules of Golf - regards,

By Craig Winter on 01/29/2012


Is a loose divot a loose impediment or is it lose sand or soil which would not be a loose impediment if not on the putting green?

By Don Clark on 02/17/2012



A loose divot is a loose impediment regardless of location.  If it has been placed in a divot hole, it is not considered loose and would no longer be a loose impediment.  In the rare case where it is has been partially placed in a divot hole, reference Decision 13-2/7.


By Craig Winter on 02/17/2012


If it is the case, the first to put it into the hole will have the advantage.

By Henry on 02/25/2012


@ Greg Smith
I totally agree with you. This gives undue advantage to the first to hit the ball.

By Pall on 03/14/2012

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