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Golf Rules on Wind-Blown Ball Changed After Harrington Penalty

Golf’s two governing bodies changed a rule on wind-blown balls that resulted in penalties this year for three-time major winner Padraig Harrington and U.S. Open Champion Rory McIlroy.

Nine of golf’s 34 principle playing rules were amended to improve “clarity and ensure penalties are proportionate,” the U.S. Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews said in a joint statement.

Players no longer will be penalized if wind causes their ball to move after they have addressed it. The change was made after Harrington was penalized during the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January and McIlroy during the British Open in July. In May, Webb Simpson was winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans when he took a penalty after his ball moved on the 15th green of the final round. He lost to Bubba Watson in a playoff.

“Every time the wind blows I am worried that my ball is going to move and I am worried about grounding my putter, distracting me from trying to hole my putt,” Harrington said in a statement issued by the USGA. “Players won’t be getting penalized or disqualified unfairly. It is definitely giving us players a little bit of a break.”

Players also will be allowed to smooth or rake sand or soil in a hazard before playing a shot, provided they don’t improve their lie, stance, swing or line of play. Previously, players were penalized when they raked sand in a bunker or smoothed soil in a hazard even if it was far from their ball.

Tardiness Rule

In another change, players no longer will be disqualified for arriving late to their tee time. If a player arrives within five minutes of the starting time, they will be assessed a two-stroke penalty in a stroke-play event, or a loss of the first hole in match play.

In 2010, Jim Furyk was disqualified from the Barclays tournament when he overslept and missed his tee time for a Pro-Am event by five minutes.

“The Rules of Golf will remain fundamentally the same,” Said David Rickman, director of rules and equipment standards for the R&A. “We have undergone a pretty extensive review although what has come out of that has been relatively modest. Our hope is that what we have produced for 2012 is clear, informed by common sense and reflective of the demands of the modern game.”

The changes are effective Jan. 1.

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