THE Royal and Ancient is considering whether or not Rule 6-8d, which allowed Colin Montgomerie, in controversial circumstances, to replace his ball on the estimated spot after a weather delay at the Indonesian Open earlier this year, needs to be changed.
The Scot attracted widespread criticism and was censured by the European Tour's Tournament Committee for failing to mark his ball in the correct place after a thunderstorm. Once he'd seen the TV pictures, which showed he mistakenly replaced the ball in the wrong spot above a bunker, Montgomerie knew an error had been made and promptly donated the 24,000 he'd won in prize money to charity. In spite of this gesture, there was a section of the Tour's membership who wanted the Scot expunged from the final result of the Indonesian Open and the world ranking points he gained from that tournament forfeited. Montgomerie, subsequently, put the furore behind him and has gone on to regain top form, return to the world's top 20 and lead the Order of Merit.
Yesterday, David Rickman, the R&A's director of rules, revealed how the rule in question, which was altered last year, will be examined again. He was non-committal, though, on whether or not it would be revised to prevent another incident like the one at the Indonesian Open happening again. If any change was felt necessary, it won't be implemented before the next review in 2008.
Discussing Rule 6-8d, Rickman told The Scotsman: "The rule which operated in that particular circumstance was changed in 2004 after we had a discussion about what people should do when play is about to be resumed.
"If your ball or marker is still there, then it's fairly easy. Just replace the ball on the mark. What do you do if it's not there? Under the previous rule you would have estimated where it was and dropped the ball.
"We had a number of cases where someone was on the bank of a water hazard. When you went back after play was suspended, what did you do? The rules said you had to drop it. Surprise, surprise, the ball went in the water.
"We didn't think that was a very good outcome. So, in 2004, we changed the position to say if you don't know exactly where the ball was, you place it as near as possible to the original spot.
"What the rule doesn't explicitly mention is the lie. I think some of the concern which was expressed about that particular case [with Montgomerie] was that the ball didn't seem to go back in exactly the right place. But it's an estimation and the referee's judgment at the time was the ball had gone back close enough.
"There was also concern that the ball went from being buried, to not being buried. To be fair, that [aspect of the rule] is something we will look at. We made a change for good reason, but this is a good example of what can happen when subsequent questions arise and you have to look again.
"That incident also leads us into the wider issue of dropping versus placing. People sometimes ask why don't we do away with dropping in its entirety? You could do it, and it would be a simplification, but it would be against the tradition of the game. In most instances, we think dropping is necessary to preserve the integrity of the game."
Meantime, the European Tour has announced a reduction in the number of players who make the 36-hole cut from 70 and ties to 65 next season. The hope is that fewer qualifiers will minimise the number of occasions when players go out in three balls or a two-tee start is required to complete play at weekends.
The cut has stood at 70 and ties since the start of the 2000 season but the Tour decided on the change in response to negative feedback from its members and in a bid to improve television coverage of tournaments at weekends.
Next month's China Open, to be held at Shenzhen Golf Club from 24 to 27 November, will be the first event to operate under the new guidelines.
Montgomerie's first event of the new season will be the Hong Kong Open from 1 to 4 December where he will come up against defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez. The tournament prize fund will be 690,000 and is the first of a new four-year sponsorship deal with Swiss bank UBS, which will see the money on offer rise to 1.4million by 2008, which marks the event's 50th anniversary. The tournament is co-sanctioned by both the European and Asian tours.