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Limb-o: Ko's 75 includes ruling for ball stuck in tree

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Lydia Ko’s caddie hiked high up into a tree Thursday trying to retrieve her ball in an adventure at the 14th hole at the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout.

A rules question quickly ensued over whether the LPGA correctly allowed Ko to take an unplayable after her caddie, Jason Hamilton, was not able to identify the ball.

It was that kind of day for the Rolex world No. 1.

After a rough start shooting 4-over-par 75, Ko needs to do some work Friday to avoid missing a cut for the first time in an LPGA event. She entered this week’s tournament at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas, having made the cut in all 50 of her tour starts as a pro and amateur. She was tied for 98th when she signed her card after Thursday’s round but had dropped to T-129 late in the afternoon. The cut will be made to the low 70 and ties on Friday with another cut to the low 50 and ties on Saturday. Ko’s 75 was her highest score since she posted a 76 in the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open last August.

With Ko pledging to donate her winnings this week to relief efforts in Nepal, where a devastating earthquake left thousands dead, there’s more at stake than Ko’s bottom line. There are no winnings for players who miss the cut on Friday.

Ko was 2 under par in her round when she hit her approach shot at the 14th hole long and left. She tried to hit a lob over a tree blocking her route to the green, but her ball caught up in a branch and never came down.

“I would never have imagined for it to be stuck up there,” Ko said afterward.

Hamilton scrambled up into the tree, climbing fairly high up to where the gallery could see a ball resting in some pine needles. Hamilton couldn’t reach the ball above him but shook a nearby branch, then repeatedly hit the branch with a club that Ko had tossed up to him, but he couldn’t knock the ball free.

With Hamilton in the tree, Ko asked why they had to free the ball if they were going to take an unplayable.

“We have to identify it,” Hamilton told her.

Shortly after, LPGA rules official Brad Alexander arrived. He told Ko she could take an unplayable lie based on witness accounts of the ball going into the tree. She took a penalty stroke and a drop near the tree. If the ball had been declared lost, Ko would have been required to take a penalty and also return to where she struck the last shot. She would have had to drop and play from there.

In answer to a inquiry about the ruling, LPGA media relations emailed this response from Alexander: “Based on the testimony of multiple spectators and others who witnessed Lydia's stroke and where the ball came to rest on the limb, she was able to determine a reference point in order to take relief under Rule 28c.”

Ko took the unplayable and made triple-bogey 7. She followed that at the 15th hole with a double bogey and then a bogey at the 16th. She shot 41 on the back nine.

“You just get those days where the things that you least expect happen,” Ko said.

The ball-in-the-tree adventure at the 14th derailed Ko’s round. Hamilton said he had never climbed that high in a tree looking for a ball.

“That was probably a record for me,” he said. “I’m too old for climbing trees.”

Hamilton said he thought he was required to identify the ball before Ko could take an unplayable lie.

“I didn't hesitate going up there, because I thought we had to identify the ball to be able to take an unplayable ... but, fortunately, the official came along and told us that if it's unanimous consensus that the ball hitched up the tree, and we know the approximate location, then that's fine, just take an unplayable,” Hamilton said. “So, it was all for nothing in the end.”