Simple mistake costs Rory McIlroy

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Golf's rules can be harsh and unforgiving, a lesson Rory McIlroy learned Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

A careless mistake on the ninth green cost the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland 2 strokes. Only the next two days will determine whether it costs him the championship.

Before playing his third shot to the par-4 hole from just off the green, McIlroy brushed away sand in his line.

That would have been OK if his ball had been on the green. But it clearly wasn't. Even though he was going to putt, the ball was not on the putting surface, which, according to Rule 13-2, precludes a player from clearing any debris from his line.

Tiger Woods, playing in the group, did not see the infraction, but Luke Donald quickly mentioned to McIlroy that he didn't think that was allowed. McIlroy summoned a rules official, and, soon enough, 2 strokes were added to his score on the hole.

McIlroy putted onto the green, then holed the next one for what would have been a 4 but turned into a 6.

"Just made a very stupid mental mistake on [No.] 9 that cost me 2 strokes,'' he said. "There was maybe six feet of fringe going up to the green and there was so much sand in my line, I didn't even think about it. I just went down and brushed the sand, and Luke said, 'Don't think you can do that.'

"And it came to me right away. One of those things. I'll definitely not do it again. Just a mental error. ... It's a bit of a weird rule. You can move a loose impediment like a divot out of your line. You can't move sand. It's a tricky rule.''

The 2-stroke penalty seems particularly harsh. As McIlroy said, that's the same as you get for driving the ball out of bounds.

"Hey, look, the rules are the rules,'' McIlroy said. "And we've got to play by them. I was just caught on the wrong side of them today.''

McIlroy, who was the first-round co-leader, made two double-bogeys on the front side. But he fought back on the incoming nine and managed to shoot even-par 72 to stay 2 strokes back of leader Thorbjorn Olesen.

"Overall, with everything that happened, it wasn't a bad score,'' he said.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.