McIlroy Rues Ruling

In the third round of the Abu Dhabi Championship, Rory McIroy suffered one of golf's unalterable facts: if you commit a penalty - no matter how arcane or picayune - you will pay the consequences. In this case, it ultimately cost the 24-year-old a victory.

On the second hole Saturday, his drive ended up in the fairway but on a spectator crossing area, thus allowing him a free drop under rule 25-1. The drop, to be made one club away from the crossing at the nearest point of relief but no closer to the hole, was optional.

McIlroy chose to take the drop, but didn't realize he played his next shot with his foot touching the white line identifying the border of the walkway.

In other words, he failed to take "full relief" as designated by the rule. The error was noticed by the veteran caddie, Dave Renwick, of his playing partner, Ricardo Gonzalez. McIlroy's caddie, JP Fitzgerald, didn't notice the difference. If he did, Fitzgerald could have advised his boss to take a re-drop before the second shot was played.

Unfortunately for McIlroy, Renwick didn't notify McIlroy until the end of the round, in which he posted a 4-under 68. After officials reviewed the situation, McIroy was assessed a two-stroke penalty, changing his third-round score to a 70.

McIlroy was visibly miffed after learning of the penalty Saturday night. "There are a lot of stupid rules in golf and this is one of them," he said then.

McIlroy closed with a 68 on Sunday, but finished tied for second at 13-under 275 with Phil Mickelson (who experienced his own one-hole woes in the final round after a double-hit from underneath a bush), a mere stroke behind winner Pablo Larrazabal.

Renwick later told reporters that he put a note on McIlroy's locker before the start of the final round explaining his action. "I couldn't have gone to sleep knowing that I hadn't said anything. I put a letter, a nice short one, on his locker saying that I'm sure he would appreciate what I did was in good faith."

McIlroy later said he understood and agreed with the caddie's position. "You have to adhere to the rules of this game and he was pointing out something he thought was questionable," the classy player said. "He was just doing what I guess anyone would."

Renwick was comforted by McIlroy's response to the whole situation. "It was pleasing to hear that Rory had said there was no animosity as we've all got to adhere to the rules out here, after all," the Scottish caddie said.

After just missing out on his sixth European Tour title and his second victory in a month (he won the Australian Open in mid-December), McIlroy met with reporters and discussed the two-stroke penalty and his performance in Abu Dhabi. Here's what he said to the media.

Q. Not for the first time a two shot penalty has denied you the possibility of victory here. Can you describe just how frustrating that is?

RORY McILROY: No, I can't describe it. You know, I feel like I'm standing here and I should be 15 under par for the tournament and win by one. But that's the way it goes. I played the least shots of anyone this week. So, I mean, I can count it as a moral victory more than anything else. Yeah, I mean, it's frustrating. I've played well the whole week. It's a very positive start to the season so I'm not going to let one little negative ruin that.

Q. Compared to 12 months ago and the way you left here then, how much of a positive do you feel going forward for the rest of the season after the way you played this week, particularly the way you drove the ball?

RORY McILROY: No, I'm happy. I came in here telling everyone that I'm really happy with my game and done some good work and felt like it was coming together for me at the end of last year. I've continued that on. So, yeah, really excited for the rest of the season. Got a week off now to prepare for Dubai and give it another run there and see if I can get the win there.

Q. I take it you've had fewer shots than anybody this week, so what is the verdict?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, obviously standing here a little frustrated that I didn't get the victory. This is going to be my third second place finish at this tournament, and, you know, I've had a few good finishes here and not quite won it. But it's been a positive week, a really positive start to the season. I feel like I've played really well and I've got a week off now to prepare for Dubai and try and get my first victory of the season there instead.

Q. Were you able to put yesterday's ruling out of your mind?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I was, until I finished one behind on the 18th and then it started to dawn on me if that had not happened, I would have won. But that's the way it goes. I tried to win today and nearly did. But Pablo played very well. I can't take anything away from him. When he needed to, he hit the shots, and the two shots he hit into 18 were straight out of the top drawer, so fair play to him. It's good to see, he's a good guy, one of my closer friends out here and good to see him get the win.

Q. Were you totally conscious of just how close everything was?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I was. I knew that Phil was sort of making a little bit of a move behind us. I didn't realize he had made a 7 at the 13th until I looked at the scoreboard on the 17th green and didn't realize that. I thought with Phil maybe not quite in it, I could maybe sneak up an Pablo. But Pablo obviously played good down the stretch. He had some great chances for birdies that he didn't make either, and two good shots on 18 and a good putt to finish.

Q. Bodes well for 2014?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it really does. I feel good about my game and feel like I'm back to the place that I want to be and I'm driving the ball well, hitting the ball solid and giving myself plenty of chances for birdies. And if I can keep doing that, the wins will come.

Q. Can you describe your emotions when you look at that leaderboard and find that you've lost by one?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's tough. I guess I've just got to put that out of my head and just I lost by one shot. I guess I'm standing here thinking that I played one shot less than anyone else this week, but ended up not getting a trophy. But I played well. I can't let one little thing ruin this week. It's been a very positive week, a great way to start the season and excited for the weeks ahead.

Q. Cause for satisfaction in a number of areas and one I thought would be the way that you did respond to the setback yesterday with the way you played today.

RORY McILROY: Yeah, I played very similarly to the way I played the last few days, not many mistakes. I made my first bogey of the tournament today on the 5th and it was a good bogey and after that I played very solid, just the way I've been playing. That's something I've really wanted to work on, as well, course management wise, and I guess playing the smart shots at times and not making as many mistakes. I made a couple of - well, one double bogey, but I only dropped three shots really this tournament, which is very satisfying.

Q. And living life on the leaderboard at the very first opportunity, feeling that heat of competition, that's really valuable going forward?

RORY McILROY: Yeah, it's huge. I'm really happy, even last year, I was always really happy with how I handled myself under the pressure and down the stretch. When I needed to make up and downs, I did. Still a good week and I definitely didn't let Pablo have it. I made him fight for it till the end, so I'm proud of myself for that.

Q. And how did you work off the frustration last night?

RORY McILROY: Gym. I was in the gym, and then just had a quiet night, quiet meal and went to bed. Caroline came in this morning early and surprised me, so it was nice.

Q. I was a little unclear yesterday when you were describing the two shot penalty whether you didn't notice where your foot was or whether you weren't sure of the rule itself -

RORY McILROY: I knew the rule. I knew you have to take full relief. I just didn't know where my foot was.

Q. What's next?

RORY McILROY: I'll be in Dubai, have to do a couple sponsor days, Tuesday, Wednesday. Hang around here and get a tan.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.

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