Golf Comment: Schoolboy error was McIlroy undoing

Sam Torrance
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FORMER world No1 Rory McIlroy was justifiably annoyed at missing out on the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Sunday because of a two-shot penalty, but the truth is that he had no one to blame but himself.

The Ulsterman was penalised for having one foot on the spectator path when dropping his ball during the third round. He finished one shot behind winner Pablo Larrazabal, meaning the sanction cost him the title.

McIlroy called it “a stupid rule”. He’s right, it is stupid and he gained no advantage from it whatsoever. But a rule’s a rule. When you take relief, as it’s known, you have to take complete relief. It’s a schoolboy error and how his caddie didn’t spot it I do not know.

McIlroy will learn his lesson the hard way and, I’m sure, take comfort from another solid performance that offered further evidence he is back to his old Major-winning self.

For Larrazabal, it was a fantastic victory. He stood strong under pressure on the back nine and holed a great five-footer to clinch his third European Tour title.

It could yet prove the Spaniard’s breakthrough. I always rated the 1980 Australian Open my best win simply because I beat Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros to it, and Larrazabal could draw similar belief from seeing off McIlroy and fellow Major winner Phil Mickelson.

Open champion Mickelson, who tied with McIlroy, also had bad luck. His attempted escape from under a bush backfired, causing a double hit and incurring a costly penalty. These are one in 20 chance setbacks.

It was a big surprise to see 2013’s star Henrik Stenson miss the cut in Abu Dhabi, but he’ll be looking forward to putting that right at this week’s Qatar Masters, where Swedes have won three times in 10 years. Ernie Els, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia will also be playing the latest leg of the Gulf swing, where conditions are great.

Finally, hats off to consummate professional Bernhard Langer, who wasted no time in claiming his first win of the 2014 Champions Tour, birdying five of the last six holes to take the season opener in Hawaii.

Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam