Rules Court: PGA Tour Rules of Golf rulings

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Case of the Sudden-Death Club Switch THE DEFENDANT: Phil Mickelson THE CASE: At the 2003 Skins Game, the players needed a sudden-death playoff to determine the final skin of the two nine-hole contests. Before the extra holes, Mickelson switched one club in his bag for another. "In my 25, 26 years on Tour, I had never heard of a player doing that," Couples recalls. "So I asked [a Rules official], 'What the hell is he doing?'" Go to the next page for the verdict.
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THE VERDICT: Mickelson was within his rights. Before the playoff, Mickelson's caddie replaced Lefty's 4-wood with a 2-iron. Mickelson then used that 2-iron for his approach on the first playoff hole. Because it was stroke play and the nine holes (which were the stipulated round in this event) had been completed, he technically could have switched out his entire bag. As for Couples, he went on to win the skin -- and $200,000. (Photo: From left, Phil Mickelson, Annika Sorenstam, Fred Couples and Mark O'Meara at the 2003 Skins at the Trilogy Golf Club in La Quinta, Calif.)
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The Case of the Painted Grass THE DEFENDANT: Zach Johnson THE CASE: On the green of the par-4 11th at the 2008 Valero Texas Open, the inside of the cup had recently been painted, and flecks of paint were scattered near the hole. Johnson was given permission to brush the flecks from the green, but as he got to the last one, he discovered that it was stuck to the grass. Johnson realized that by removing the painted grass, he might inadvertently improve his line of putt. So Johnson called over a rules official. "I asked him, 'Can you or I do anything here?'" Johnson recalls. Go to the next page for the verdict.
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THE VERDICT: The flecks he removed were movable obstructions because they were not attached to the grass. But because the last fleck was stuck to a blade of grass, removing or bending the blade would have put him in breach of Rule 13-2 for improving his line of putt. Said Johnson: "That was a new one for me." Clearly the ruling didn't faze Johnson, as he went on to win the tournament.
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The Case of the Mystery Ball Mark THE DEFENDANT: Sean O'Hair THE CASE: On the fifth hole at the 2006 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, O'Hair and his playing partners hit their tee shots. When O'Hair reached the ball that he thought he had played off the tee, it had markings he didn't recognize. While the ball was the model he had been using -- a Titleist 2 -- O'Hair says he was sure it wasn't his because of the markings. A rules official checked the other players' balls, and none of them were identified as O'Hair's. "There wasn't enough evidence that it wasn't my ball, but to this day I still don't know how it happened." Go to the next page for the verdict.
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THE VERDICT: The official ruled that O'Hair should be given the benefit of the doubt due to the lack of evidence. If there had been proof that he played a wrong ball, he would've incurred a two-stroke penalty under Rule 15-3.
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The Case of the Bent Driver Shaft THE DEFENDANT: Geoff Ogilvy THE CASE: During the first round of the 2001 Byron Nelson Classic, Ogilvy noticed that his steel driver shaft was starting to bend significantly. "There was a kink in it, and it must have weakened at some point," Ogilvy recalls. "I must have bent it a little bit and never noticed it, and I was playing with it all day." Later in the round, Ogilvy noticed that the club was bent to the point where he could no longer use it. After the round, he disqualified himself. Go to the next page for the verdict.
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THE VERDICT: Under Rule 4-3b, if during a round a player continues to use a club that has been damaged (other than in the normal course of play) enough to render it nonconforming or to change its playing characteristics, he's DQ'd. "I think I bent the club early in the round after a poor tee shot," Ogilvy admits. "I may have put it back in the bag a little more firmly than usual."
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The Case of the Re-Buried Ball THE DEFENDANT: Charles Howell III THE CASE: At the 2008 Mercedes-Benz Championship, on the very first hole of the year, Howell found a ball buried in a bunker, making it impossible to identify. Howell dug the ball out, identified it as his own and then reburied it, re-creating "the same awful lie that I had to begin with," Howell recalls. "I've never had to pull a ball out of a plugged lie and then actually replug it. Inside, you're just crying that you have to do it." Go to the next page for the verdict.
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THE VERDICT: Howell proceeded correctly. Under a recent rules change, a player has the option of identifying his ball in a hazard before playing it (Rule 12-2). If Howell had taken a hack at the wrong ball, he would've been penalized two strokes under Rule 15-3 for playing a wrong ball. If he had continued to play the incorrect ball through his first stroke on the next hole, he would have been disqualified. "With this rules change," Howell says, "it should make for some interesting scenarios going forward."
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The Case of the Unfortunate Drop THE DEFENDANT: Tim Clark THE CASE: During the 2008 Crowne Plaza Invitational, Clark hit a shot into a water hazard, so he took a one-stroke penalty and dropped his ball to take relief. But on the drop, the ball rolled back toward the water, giving him an awkward stance. "The ball was outside the hazard, but I was standing on some rocks in the hazard," Clark explains, "so I thought I could probably get a drop again." Clark thought he wouldn't have to play it as it lay because his stance would've been inside the hazard. "I was literally almost falling in the water," Clark says. Go to the next page for the verdict.
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THE VERDICT: Under Rule 20-2c, because the ball did not roll and come to rest in a position requiring a re-drop (for example, rolling more than two club lengths or back into the hazard), Clark was not allowed a re-drop. It is legal to play a ball while standing in a hazard.
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The Case of the Suspended Bunker Shot THE DEFENDANT: Stewart Cink THE CASE: When play was suspended during the second round of the 1999 Masters, Cink marked his ball, which was in a bunker, with a tee. When he returned to resume play, he replaced his ball and lifted the tee, bringing some of the sand up with the tee. After Cink removed the tee, some sand was now sitting directly behind his ball. "[Before the suspension], I had a perfect lie," Cink recalls. "Now there was a cone of sand behind the ball." So he flicked the sand away. Go to the next page for the verdict.
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THE VERDICT: Cink's ball was considered to be in play after he replaced it. As he had tested the condition of the hazard by flicking away the small amount of sand with his finger, he was in breach of Rule 13-4a. "I learned from a rules official that I'd be adding two penalty strokes to my score."
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The Case of the Bizarro Drop THE DEFENDANT: Niclas Fasth THE CASE: After hitting his ball into a water hazard at the 2005 Dunhill Links Championship, Fasth recovered a few balls and took a drop with what he thought was his original. His ball trickled back to the hazard (he was on a slope), so his caddie stopped it. Only then did Fasth notice that it was not his original ball. Fasth believed he needed to play out the hole with his original ball, so his caddie chucked the ball he previously dropped, and Fasth carried on. Go to the next page for the verdict.
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THE VERDICT: Fasth could legally use any ball when dropping out of the hazard, but he was not entitled to substitute balls after his first drop. "That was definitely the most bizarre rule I've ever, ever come across," Harrington says. Under Rule 15-2, Fasth was penalized two strokes for an incorrect substitution and made a 10.