Englishman Luke Donald, level par through 36 holes and trying to become the first Briton to win the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin won at Hazeltine in 1970, got a break on the 17th hole on Friday. He knocked his second shot over the green and into some deep, gnarly grass.
There was a sprinkler head about an inch or two from his ball, from which he could get relief only if it would interfere with his swing or stance. It was not going to interfere with his stance, but Donald made a case to the USGA official assigned to his group, Peter James, that it did interfere with his swing. He told James that from that lie he would have to make a cut flop shot, swinging from the outside in, and on that path the sprinkler head would be in his way in the follow-through.
James looked at the lie, considered what Donald said and gave him relief. Donald dropped the ball in much shorter grass, played a beautiful chip shot and tapped in for par.
In a brief telephone interview, James said he gave the drop to Donald because he believed what Donald said about the path of his intended swing and because the rules of golf require a rules official to give a player "the benefit of the doubt." Another rules official might not have granted him relief there. It's a judgment call.
Donald might have been able to get up-and-down from his original lie, but luckily for him he never had to find out. Come Sunday, that drop might look even more important.