The Players Championship has been strange all week long, and on Monday, it got even weirder.
Playing alongside leader Cameron Smith, Paul Casey stepped up to his tee shot on the par-5 16th with a window of opportunity. Yes, the Englishman found himself two shots off Smith’s pace, but he’d just watched as the Aussie snap hooked his drive into trouble. If Casey could make a few good swings coming down the stretch, the biggest victory of his career was within reach. But first, he’d need to put his drive in the fairway.
Casey made the kind of swing under pressure that most can only dream of. His ball rocketed off the face, screaming through the thick Florida air on a collision course with the center of the fairway. From there, he’d have a great chance to reach the green in two.
As Casey’s Pro V1 rolled down the fairway, it dodged divots and stray sod, and the commentators remarked what a great position he was in.
“That’s exactly what he was looking for,” David Feherty said.
Then, calamity struck.
With the ball slowing to a stop, it banked to the right at just the last moment — and it finished embedded in another player’s pitch mark.
“Oh you’re not serious,” Feherty said. “I have never seen that.”
It was the kind of break that gives pro golfer’s nightmares. In contention, coming down the stretch, and your ball finds trouble in the unlikeliest of places. Horrifying.
“That is a ball mark,” Feherty said. “And if that ball is lying in its own impression, then yes, you’d get relief, but that might be hard to make that argument.”
As Feherty alluded to, the Rules of Golf do provide relief for an embedded ball. However, that is only if your ball embeds in its own pitch mark. “Your ball is embedded only if it is in its own pitch-mark made as a result of your previous stroke,” states Rule 16.3a. Since Casey’s ball embedded in another player’s pitch mark, he had to play it as it lies.
Casey was in disbelief when he reached his ball. After making one of the best under-pressure swings of his career, he was rewarded with one of the worst breaks imaginable. All he could do was shake his head.
With no hope of generating clean enough contact to chase the ball onto the green, Casey instead opted to lay up. The golf gods showed no mercy on his approach. His ball pitched on the green with far too much spin, zipped off the front and ended with a drain in between his ball and the hole. From there, he could only manage par.
Sometimes, it’s just not your day.