Every shot counts in golf, but when you’re in the midst of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, trying to earn as many points as you can in each event to reach the Tour Championship and play for the season-ending $15 million bonus, well, they count just a hair more. It’s why what happened to Scottie Scheffler on Thursday during the opening round of The Northern Trust was a little more painful.
Scheffler was three-under on his round as he played the 15th hole at Liberty National. His drive missed the fairway left, and with his second shot from 188 yards, Scheffler watched as the ball came up about 80 yards short and left of the green in the rough.
While Scheffler saw his ball land, finding it was another story. Officials, players and fans searched where they thought it came to rest, but couldn’t come up with it initially. Eventually it was found, but then the question arose: Was it within the three minutes allotted under the Rules of Golf?
In the moment, Scheffler wasn’t sure so after consulting with PGA Tour rules official Gary Young, he decided to play two balls, the original one where it was found and a second from the previous spot, back in the rough left of the fairway, with an added stroke for a lost ball. With the second ball, Scheffler hit the green and two-putted for a double-bogey 6.
After the round was over, Scheffler talked with playing partner Daniel Berger and rules officials to determine what to do. “We couldn’t figure it out,” Scheffler said. “They didn’t have ShotLink data or anything, so just went with it was over 3 minutes. Just too long.”
Rule 18.2 is the one that spells out how long you have to search for a ball. You might recall this was one of the rules that was changed in 2019, the search time allowed reduced from five minutes to three.
Scheffler signed for a one-under 70 to leave him tied for 34th at the end of the first round (a 68 would have put him tied for 10th). At 21st in the FedEx Cup standings entering The Northern Trust and needing to be in the top 30 after next week’s BMW Championship to reach the Tour Championship, Scheffler is still in good position to do just that. He also has more than enough time the next two weeks to make sure he stays in the top 30.
However, you never like to give back shots if you don’t have to. Not with $15 million potentially in the balance.