All the talk at the French Open should really have been about 21-year-old Rasmus Hojgaard’s outrageous halfway lead, but, as they are prone to, it was the rules of golf that commanded the focus after a bizarre incident for Thomas Pieters that became wackier as the second day wore on.
It began with the Belgian leaving a 35-foot birdie effort some 28 feet short, then saw a local referee allow Pieters to replace it with no penalty and then finished with the chief referee telling him that he should not have essentially been granted a “mulligan”, but as he had been given the wrong ruling by an official then he would not be penalised. And they say golf’s rulebook has no mercy?
The Ryder Cup player was on the third green of Le Golf National and in the process of swinging his putter when a spectator loudly coughed. Pieters tried to stop his stroke, but did not apply the brakes in time with his ball dribbling forward.
Pieters called for a referee and was informed that as he “accidentally hit it” he could take it again. Relieved, Pieters two-putted for a par and moved on.
However, when he reached the clubhouse Mark Litton, the chief referee, was waiting to say the official had not been correct and he should have simply carried on from where his ball ended. Yet the round of 70 would stand because of the guidance in the R&A rule book that states if a player has been erroneously advised by a referee to cancel a stroke, the score with the replayed stroke counts.
No disrespect to Pieters – who was inevitably painted as a villain in certain quarters on social media, but, in fact, was not at fault – but it can only be hoped he does not win by a stroke on Sunday.
On five-under the world No 33 might seem handily placed in a tie for seventh, but he is actually 10 shots behind Rasmus, the young Dane who after a 65 is on 15-under and six clear of his nearest pursuer, France’s Paul Barjon.