Muirfield – Rules Summary


There were 234 rulings at the 2013 Open, which compares with 339 in 2012 at Lytham where a large number of rulings were given due to casual water on the course caused by the very wet summer.  The majority of the rulings given at Muirfield were relatively simple such as unplayable ball (18 rulings), identifying ball (17), interference from movable obstructions such as cables (20) and relief from immovable obstructions such as sprinkler heads (29), which underlines the importance of knowing the basics; however, the following incidents represent a selection of some of the more unusual or perhaps unfortunate rulings that occurred during the Championship.

Thomas Bjorn – Ball Strikes TV Camera

Thomas Bjorn had a smashing start to his first round of The 2013 Open Championship, when he found the rough with his tee shot. In playing his second from the rough, he managed to hit the ball into a TV camera, breaking its screen.

TV cameras positioned on the course are outside agencies so when a player’s ball in motion is deflected or stopped by any outside agency, it is a rub of the green and there is no penalty. The ball is then played as it lies (Rule 19-1).

A “rub of the green” is the term used to describe this deflection by an outside agency and it can produce some random results.  For example, Luke Donald’s third shot at the 9th hole during the first round benefitted from a rub of the green when the Englishman’s pulled approach shot first hit the top of the boundary wall before hitting the hospitality complex situated beyond the boundary and ricocheting back in bounds to the front of the green, allowing him to get up and down for a regulation par 5.

Bjorn, was not so fortunate in that he eventually finished with a double-bogey six for his opening hole but steadied to complete the round on two over. The TV camera, however, was rendered out of order!

Graeme McDowell – Ball Interfering with Play

Many viewers of the TV coverage of The Open on Friday witnessed Graeme McDowell on the 4th green move his ball-marker as it was interfering with the line of putt of Tiger Woods. McDowell then replaced his ball and putted out from this spot.

It therefore appeared that McDowell had putted out from a wrong place (in breach of Rule 20-7). However, what was not shown on camera was the fact that Tiger Woods had asked McDowell to mark his ball and move the ball-marker to the side as it was interfering with his first putt. When Tiger’s first putt finished short of the hole, it was still his turn to play. But now McDowell’s ball-marker, in its moved position, was interfering with Tiger’s next putt.

Woods asked McDowell to replace it back to his original spot so he could putt out. McDowell did this and was filmed doing so. He actually returned the ball-marker to its original position and eventually replaced the ball and putted out from the correct place.

If a player considers that another ball might interfere with his play, he may have it lifted (Rule 22-2). Before lifting the ball, McDowell was required to mark its position. The Note to Rule 20-1 clarifies that the position of the ball to be lifted should be marked by placing a ball-marker, a small coin or other similar object immediately behind the ball. If the ball-marker interferes with the play of another player, it should be placed one or more clubhead-lengths to the side.

When moving a ball or ball-marker to the side to prevent it from interfering with another player’s stance or stroke, the player may measure from the side of the ball or ball-marker. In order to accurately replace the ball on the spot from which it was lifted, the steps used to move the ball or ball-marker to the side should be reversed.

Hideki Matsuyama - Slow Play Penalty

Pace of play has become a hot topic for discussion over the last few years and the Rules of Golf allow the Committee to deal with this by establishing a pace of play policy (Note 2 to Rule 6-7).  As with most organisations that run professional and top level amateur events, The R&A implements such a policy and this is used at The Open and all other R&A Championships.  Each hole is given a time limit and if a group is behind the accumulated time allowed and more than their initial starting gap behind the group in front they are considered out of position and put ‘on the clock’.  If a group is ‘on the clock’ the first player to play a tee shot, approach shot or putt has 50 seconds to play and the other players in the group have 40 seconds to play.  The group are taken ‘off the clock’ when they are either back in position with the group in front or back on their time schedule. 

During the third round of the Open Championship, Hideki Matsuyama’s group was put on the clock on the 15th hole as they were 15 minutes over the scheduled time and 5 minutes out of position on the group ahead. Matsuyama’s first bad time was recorded on his first putt on the 15th at 1 minute 12 seconds. It was made clear to the player at this point that he had a bad time and that a further bad time would result in a one stroke penalty. 

Matsuyama was then given a second bad time for his second shot to the 17th hole.  Given his tee shot had gone in to the crowd and considering the difficulty of the shot, Matsuyama was given additional time to deal with the crowd and to go forward to assess his shot.  The timing for the shot therefore only started when the player had returned to his ball; however he then took a further 2 minutes 12 seconds to play the shot. That second bad time resulted in a one shot penalty being applied to Matsuyama’s score on the 17th hole which became 6.

Click here to see David Rickman, R&A ExecutiveDirector of Rules and Equipment Standards, explain the ruling.

For more information on Pace of Play, click here.

Martin Laird – Identifying Ball

Martin Laird had a tough day at the office during his third round at The Open.  On the third hole he fell foul of the thick Muirfield rough and had to take two unplayable drops, each under penalty of one stroke resulting in a quintuple bogey 9. 

Just seven holes later he once again found himself in the thick rough.  A ball spotter found a ball but as Laird was unable to see his identification mark he announced to the spotter that he was going to identify the ball.  He then marked and lifted it just far enough to see that it was his.  A player is entitled to mark his ball and lift it to check if it is his ball, however, he must also announce that he is going to do so to either his marker or fellow-competitor (in stroke play), or his opponent (in match play) or a referee, and give them the opportunity to observe the marking and identifying process (Rule 12-2).  Unfortunately, Laird’s announcement to the spotter did not meet the requirements of the Rule and he was assessed a one stroke penalty under Rule 12-2.  He finally signed for a round of 81 which took him out of contention for the Championship.

Click here to view a demonstration of the correct way to identify a ball under Rule 12-2 (see the video thumbnail on the right hand side of the page).

Charl Schwarzel – Club Damaged Other than in the Normal Course of Play

The frustrations of the Muirfield rough also got to Charl Schwartzel at the 15th hole of his first round.  After a string of bogeys, a mishit shot out of the rough at the 15th was the last straw for Schwartzel and he threw his club to the ground in frustration.  The club broke in two on hitting the firm ground and so Schwartzel had to complete the round without his 8 iron.

As the club was not broken in the normal course of play the player was no longer entitled to use it or to replace the broken club (Rule 4-3b).  The penalty for using such a damaged club would be disqualification (Rule 4-3).