Mischief hinted at truth when Ernie Els suggested golf's Royal and Ancient custodians must have been on the gin when setting out Rule 18.2, which, on the opening day at the BMW PGA Championship placed Graeme McDowell at the centre of that classic golfing rumpus – the incomprehensible law infringement.
A bottle of mother's little helper was the minimum requirement to restore the equilibrium of McDowell, who was not the only victim of golf's regulatory intransigence in the matter of the moving ball. The other was the game itself, which, not for the first time, invited ridicule.
McDowell went from one under par to two over in the flick of a remote control after smashing his ball into the trees on the last. The drive was bad enough but nothing compared to the pain awaiting. His ball had come to rest on a bed of leaves and scrub on the edge of a thicket. McDowell had to part the branches to determine firstly that it was his ball at rest in the rubbish and secondly that it was playable.
On his way into the undergrowth, and from a distance he estimated to be 10 feet, he inadvertently caused his ball to move. This was not immediately apparent to him, but it was to the lay copper watching on TV. A call to Sky – how do they get through? – alerted the referee to McDowell's guilt before he even knew himself.
Meanwhile on the ground, McDowell was instructing caddie Ken Comboy to follow him into the bush to assess the options. McDowell considered taking a penalty-drop before deeming the ball playable. After hacking out he immediately sought on-course pundit Richard Boxall to determine via the Sky cameras if the ball had moved without detection by the naked eye and thus avoid signing for an incorrect score.
Replays revealed malpractice had indeed taken place. The ball had moved a fraction, estimated to be a third of a turn. McDowell was penalised one stroke for causing his ball to move and another for not replacing it. And thus a bogey six became a triple bogey eight. McDowell was understandably discomfited and under the nose of referee John Paramour poured out his frustration beside the scorer's hut.
"I was literally 10 feet away," he said. "Looking back, I'm not sure what I could have done. The ball was perched until I got 10 feet from it, and at that point it was too late. The rules are there for everyone's protection. But it's a harsh one.
"How are you supposed to attempt to place the ball when you are not sure it's moved in the first place?"
The high-definition camera has brought a new tyranny to the game. The omnipotent lens can spot the movement of a dimple from a thousand paces, and when prompted by a busy punter at home, wreaks havoc on the game. Lesser-profile golfers, playing without the microscopic intrusion of the long lens, would not have been held up to scrutiny in the same way.
That would not be an issue if the rules acquired the necessary elasticity to govern justly. How can it be right that a golfer should be penalised for inadvertently producing an outcome that could not have been otherwise? The rule is designed to protect against cheating, the knowing movement of a ball to gain an advantage.
McDowell could not have known that he had moved the ball since the eye has not evolved sufficiently to detect movement from that distance. Nor in the circumstances could he have avoided the outcome during the process of establishing the nature of the lie, which he is compelled to do.
His playing partner, Lee Westwood, was left shaking his head from the safety of the fairway. "I can't remember ever seeing anything like that. What else could he do? He had to go in after his ball. It does not seem right to punish a player because the ball moved when he was nowhere near it. What would happen if the ball moved as he was playing his shot?"
Paramour sympathised to a degree but stood foursquare behind the regulation. "The mistake Graeme made was not calling immediately for assistance from the referee. Had he done that he would have avoided the second penalty because we could have confirmed movement of the ball." McDowell eventually signed for a two-over 74, eight off the lead held by Peter Lawrie and David Drysdale, and the same as Rory McIlroy, who had troubles of his own on a day when his No 1 ranking weighed heavily.
After a run of three bogeys in four holes, McIlroy's sense of humour followed his ball out of bounds on the 12th. A pulled approach into the shrubbery was followed by a pushed provisional into a greenside bunker, at which point McIlroy launched his club violently across the fairway en route to a six.
"I struggled to get the pace of the greens today," McIlroy said. "A bit of déjà vu from last year. I kept getting off to good starts and making a few bogeys around the turn and not really getting any momentum back, and it was the exact same that happened today."
Justin Rose closed on five under, one better than playing partner, Luke Donald, and three ahead of Westwood.
Rule 18.2: How McDowell fell foul
The R&A Rules of Golf Rule 18: Ball at Rest Moved; [18-2] By Player, Partner, Caddie or Equipment
Except as permitted by the Rules, when a player's ball is in play, if the player, his partner or either caddie: causes the ball to move.
McDowell earned a further stroke penalty after failing to replace his ball when required to do so.Reuse content