VIRGINIA WATER, England — Golf's ever-vigilant Couch Potato Police were mobilized yet again in the first round of the BMW PGA Championship. This time the villain one TV viewer ratted on was 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.
Armed with his thumb poised over the slow motion button on a high definition TV in Nowhereville, UK, the self-appointed officer in charge of golf's daft rules picked up a telephone to give evidence that McDowell's ball had rolled the width of a couple of dimples as the Northern Irishman walked up to his ball in the low hanging branches of a tree on the 18th hole.
It resulted in a two-shot penalty and a triple bogey eight in a total of two-over-par 74. It leaves McDowell eight shots adrift of the lead held at six under par by Scotland's David Drysdale and Ireland's Peter Lawrie. Justin Rose and Alvaro Quiros shot 67s, and Luke Donald signed for a four-under 68. Rose almost withdrew after waking up feeling dizzy.
"I got out of the car and felt like there was a massive earthquake going on," he said. The doctors prescribed "anti-nausea medication" and Rose played on.
"I guess it was some sort of vertigo," he said. "I was nearly falling over."
All of which trumps McDowell's bizarre adventure. But there was never any chance of McDowell being disqualified, which would've happened had he signed for an incorrect score and left the course. But McDowell said he had an inkling his ball moved slightly and called it on himself.
His mistake was failing to inform a rules official (one on the course, not on the couch) before hacking his ball out. Because he didn't replace his ball, that turned a one-shot penalty into two.
"TV footage showed the ball literally rotated a couple of dimples," McDowell said. "It was just one of those crazy scenarios. Looking back, I'm not sure what I could have done. The ball was perched until I got 10 feet from it. How are you supposed to replace a ball when you're not sure it's moved in the first place? It's a harsh one," he said. "The Rules of Golf are very precise and in depth. It's impossible to know every idiosyncrasy."
The rule is there to protect against cheats tempted to improve the lie of their ball. McDowell blamed himself and took his medicine with customary good grace, but he did scratch his head at the difficulty of coping with the most complex rules in all sport. "There are so many strange little fiddly rules that we are all so damned scared because there are so many watching who like the Rules of Golf," he said. "You could argue that it's a reason golf is so much fun to watch on TV because of these cameras. Every now and again a guy gets killed by a couple of dimples moving. But the ball has moved, and that's tough cookies."
McDowell had an ally in Ernie Els, who only last week was penalized two shots in Dallas for hitting the wrong ball out of a hazard. "There's obviously a lot of gin swigging that goes on up there," Els said in jest poking fun at the Rules Committee up in St. Andrews.
Els was cruising along nicely at six under par on the course he controversially re-designed, but then he bogeyed the 14th and 15th holes and scrambled a par at the 18th to finish at four under.
"I think the course looks beautiful," Els said with a laugh. "I played 13 holes perfectly."
The way he played the 18th was anything but perfect. He pulled his drive into the trees, hacked out, pushed a 3-iron into a greenside bunker deep enough to bury one of the sponsors' BMWs, then almost holed out from the sand. He walked off happy with his Seve par.
"I don't think there're been a human being where I hit my tee shot," he said with a laugh. "I think there's a cesspool out there."
It's good to see the smile back on the South African's face. He explained the reason for his new, relaxed demeanor.
"Bobby Locke always had a great saying," Els said. "'You always see a good putter with a good sense of humor.' As you guys will attest, I haven't had a great sense of humor for the last 18 months."
Someone who had a rare sense of humor bypass was World No.1 Rory McIlroy. He hurled a mid-iron up the 12th fairway after hitting out of bounds on the way to a two-over-par 74. Maybe he was practicing for the first pitch he'll throw at the San Francisco Giants game on the Tuesday of U.S. Open week. He can expect a fine from the European Tour.
Never has McIlroy been so angry after a round. He looked fit to explode as he stopped for a brief post mortem. Was throwing the club just a release of frustration? "Yup," he said.
And, as the rabbit says, that was all folks.