AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) What a kick Rory McIlroy has been at Augusta.
The 19-year-old phenom was surprised to discover he had caused an uproar by smoothing the sand after a bad bunker shot Friday. The rules committee got involved, there was talk of disqualification and the mop-topped teen from Northern Ireland found himself as the center of attention at his first Masters - for all the wrong reasons.
"It wasn't a tantrum," McIlroy said, looking far more composed Saturday afternoon than he had a day earlier. "In the rules it says a kick, and a kick is when you take your foot out of the sand and back in. A smoothing of the sand is what I did. I might have done it a little vigorously, but that was my intent. It wasn't my intent to test the sand."
When McIlroy failed to get his ball out of the bunker on the 18th hole, he took a swipe at the sand with his right foot. Players are forbidden from testing the surface before hitting any shots in a hazard, and a penalty would have disqualified McIlroy because it would change his score after he'd already signed his card.
McIlroy was long gone from the course when word filtered out that the rules committee was reviewing what he had done. It wasn't until a few hours after play finished that McIlroy was cleared to play the weekend.
"It's in the past now, and I am looking forward to shooting a low round tomorrow," he said after a 1-under 71 got him back to even for the tournament.
"It was probably a bit of a fuss made of it," he added. "But I will know in the future not to smooth the sand so vigorously."
McIlroy was the head of the under-20 Kiddie Corps at this year's Masters. The group includes Ryo Ishikawa and Danny Lee and already they're winning tournaments - professional ones - and setting records. They're talented, charismatic and, given time, might just make a run at Tiger Woods.
They're so good, it wouldn't have been a shock to see any of the three on the leaderboard. And sure enough, there was McIlroy at 4-under through 15 holes Friday. But he had a spectacular collapse on the last three holes, dropping five strokes to tumble out of contention and onto the cut line.
McIlroy said he always swipes the sand after his bunker shots to clean up his footprints before the sand is raked. He did that very thing Friday after failing to get his first bunker shot out, never giving it a second thought. After three-putting for a double-bogey, McIlroy was so upset he blew past reporters who were waiting to talk to him.
A few minutes later, he thought better of it and returned for interviews. When he left the course, the cut line was his only worry.
His phone rang at 6:30 p.m. EDT, and Fred Ridley, chair of the competition committees at Augusta National asked what he'd done on 18.
"I said, 'I played my bunker shot, didn't get it out of the bunker. Played my next shot over the green and three-putted for a seven,"' McIlroy said.
Ridley told McIlroy they were looking at his bunker shots, and asked if he wanted to return to the club to review the tape. McIlroy said no thanks, confident he hadn't done anything wrong.
Almost two hours later, Ridley called back and told McIlroy it was in his best interest to look at the tape. At issue was whether McIlroy kicked the sand or swiped it; it looked like a kick because some sand flew up.
McIlroy returned to Augusta National, and spent about 10 minutes looking at the tape and talking with the rules committee. Never did he think he was in danger of being disqualified.
"I didn't feel I had done anything wrong or anything to violate the rules, so I was very certain no action would be taken," he said.
The committee eventually accepted McIlroy's explanation, telling him he was free to play the final two rounds.
But McIlroy isn't taking any chances. When he landed in a bunker on the second hole Saturday, he took his shot and quickly climbed out, his footprints still etched clearly in the sand.
"I was a little more careful," McIlroy said, smiling. "I know I didn't do anything wrong, but I don't want to be in that position again."