For the second year in a row, a questionable drop in Abu Dhabi has led to a costly penalty for a former world No. 1.
After holing his putt on the 18th green Saturday in Abu Dhabi, Rory McIlroy completed what appeared to be a 68 and headed to sign his scorecard. At the time, he was at 11 under for the week and alone in second place, just one shot behind leader Craig Lee.
Instead, McIlroy was whisked back to the second hole by European Tour rules officials, where questions surrounding a drop he took earlier in the day led to the Ulsterman being hit with a two-shot penalty.
McIlroy was forced to take a drop from a spectator pathway on No. 2, a par-5 hole where he went on to make a par. According to a recap from the European Tour, though, McIlroy still had one foot on the line surrounding the pathway in question when he hit his next shot, which was deemed an illegal drop in hindsight by Tour officials.
"(McIlroy) found what he thought to be his nearest point of relief where the ball was outside and when he dropped the ball within a club’s length, when he actually stood to the ball, his left foot was standing on or just over the line demarking the area of ground under repair," explained head official John Paramor in a statement. "Therefore he has not taken full relief and he is in breach of the Rule 25/1, the penalty for which is two strokes."
Because McIlroy had not yet signed his third-round scorecard, he was assessed the penalty which turned his par on the second hole into a double bogey.
"There are some stupid rules in golf, and this is one of them," he told the BBC following the decision.
The penalty is a significant one for McIlroy, who appeared in position to play with the relatively unknown Lee in Sunday's final pairing. Instead, he now drops into a tie for fourth alongside Pablo Larrazabal, three shots behind Lee and one shot behind the resurgent Phil Mickelson, who played his way from the cut line to the front page of the leaderboard with a 9-under 63 in the third round.
Following the fallout, McIlroy admitted that he had made a mistake - albeit a slight one.
"We went out to see it again and see my divot and it was clear I could not have played my shot with my feet anywhere else," he told reporters. "It's unfortunate. If anything, it was a disadvantage because I dropped it in a bad lie and did not make birdie."
Just one year ago, Tiger Woods was deemed to have taken an improper drop from what he believed to be an embedded lie during the second round. Like McIlroy, he received a two-shot penalty, one that caused Woods to miss the 36-hole cut by a single shot.
Despite the setback, McIlroy remained tongue-in-cheek after the round on Twitter, channeling one of the more frustrating rules from his fiancee's sport of tennis in an outstanding retort:
Foot fault.....— Rory Mcilroy (@McIlroyRory) January 18, 2014