The most interesting Rules situation at the 2010 Ryder Cup in Wales so far (I’m writing this on Sunday evening and the 12 singles matches will now be played tomorrow), concerned Corey Pavin’s pick, the 21-year old Rickie Fowler. He and his Thursday foursomes partner, Jim Furyk, suffered a loss of hole penalty on the 4th hole to go 2-down when Fowler incorrectly substituted a ball. To their credit they fought back to salvage a half against their formidable opponents, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, with Fowler sinking a tricky 5 foot putt for birdie on the 18th green.
The circumstances of the penalty were that Furyk's drive from the 4th teeing ground flew into a very muddy area that was ruled to be an abnormal ground condition from which relief was available. Instead of picking the ball out of the mud and cleaning it, Fowler, whose turn it was to play the next stroke, pulled a ball out of his pocket and dropped it within one club-length of the nearest point of relief. The relevant Rule is 25-1b, Abnormal Ground Conditions Relief;
"(i)Through the Green: If the ball lies through the green, the player must lift the ball and drop it, without penalty, within one club-length of and not nearer the hole than the nearest point of relief. The nearest point of relief must not be in a hazard or on a putting green. When the ball is dropped within one club-length of the nearest point of relief, the ball must first strike a part of the course at a spot that avoids interference by the condition and is not in a hazard and not on a putting green."Note that the player “must lift the ball and drop it”. Therefore, by dropping another ball Fowler had incorrectly substituted a ball. In stroke play this breach incurs a penalty of two strokes, but in match play it is loss of hole.
Fowler has probably not played the foursomes format very often but the mistake was still inexcusable at this level. At the very least, Jim Furyk or either of their caddies should have spotted the error before Fowler actually played his stroke. Had any of them done so, he could have re-dropped the correct ball without penalty. Rule 20-6;
“A ball incorrectly substituted, dropped or placed in a wrong place or otherwise not in accordance with the Rules but not played may be lifted, without penalty, and the player must then proceed correctly.”Immediately following this ruling there was a follow-up incident, illustrating another interesting Rules question. When Lee Westwood learned that he and Martin Kaymer had won the hole he returned to his ball and played a stroke to the green, which was over 150 yards away. Since the hole was over, was Westwood permitted to play his shot or does it amount to a practice stroke? Decision 7-2/1.5 confirms;
"Q. In a match between A and B, A holes out for a 4. B has played four strokes and his ball lies in a bunker. Thus, the hole has been decided. If B plays from the bunker, would the stroke be considered a practice stroke?I don’t know about you, but for me the Ryder Cup is the ultimate event of all the sports that I follow. It seems that most of the players feel this way too; their enthusiasm for this team competition, for which they do not get paid, is patently obvious. Long may it continue!
A. No. Strokes played in continuing play of a hole, the result of which has been decided, are not practice strokes — see Rule 7-2."
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