ATLANTA — The rules of golf stipulate that you play the ball as it lies, but Rory McIlroy wasn’t going there Friday during the second round of the Tour Championship.
He wasn’t even going after his golf ball.
McIlroy’s tee shot at East Lake’s 14th hole hit a tree and somehow ended up in a spectator’s pocket.
“Hit it up on the tree and ricocheted straight into his pocket,” McIlroy said after shooting a 5-under-par 65.
Asked if he had to retrieve the ball himself, McIlroy couldn’t help but chuckle. “I wasn’t going in there. I know how sweaty my pockets are. I’m not going into anyone else’s.”
In golf terminology, the phrase “ball in pocket,” is usually a negative one. It means a player has picked up on the hole, putting it away to end the futility until the next tee.
In this case, McIlroy was allowed a free drop under Rule 19-1a, which deals with a ball in motion that is accidentally deflected or stopped by an outside agency. The spectator, an unidentified man, diligently stood under the tree until McIlroy arrived,
then handed the golfer the ball.
McIlroy dropped, hit his second shot onto the green from 145 yards and then two-putted for par.
“It’s not the first time [it happened] this year, either,” McIlroy said. “I just had a ball go up someone’s trouser at the Scottish Open in Aberdeen. I just need to stop hitting it off line and these things won’t happen.
“I got a lucky break there. That ball could have went anywhere off that tree, and I was able to hit it on the green and make par there and keep the momentum going.”
McIlroy ended up birdieing his final two holes, and his 65 briefly tied him for the tournament lead at the PGA Tour’s season-ending event that will also conclude the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Ranked No. 1 in the world after four worldwide victories this year, McIlroy is in position to claim the FedEx Cup’s $10 million bonus.