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Whilst the penalty for Haotong Li and Bryson DeChambeau’s pace of play attracted most of the headlines, another controversial incident from last week’s Dubai Desert Classic has come to light. 

Young Australian pro Lucas Herbert has found himself at the centre of a “cheating” storm over a rules infraction during the third round.

Herbert, 23, was caught on camera improving his lie in a bunker on the third hole.

Under the terms of the new rules of golf, which came into effect on January 1, players are allowed the ground their club and remove loose impediments in the sand.

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However, a two-shot penalty remains enforceable if it is deemed that they have improved their lie or tested the surface of the sand. Officials clearly decided that’s what Herbert – who had held a share of the 36-hole lead – was doing and hit him with a two-shot penalty.

Here’s a look at the incident, shared by clearly-unimpressed former European Tour pro, Gary Evans.

Evans wasn’t the only person to take a dim view of Herbert’s antics, with Golf Channel contributor Geoff Shackelford branding it “an amazing bit of cheating”.

Herbert has since defended himself on the popular Inside The Ropes podcast, describing the incident as “a brain fade”.

“I should have got down there and moved what was there with my fingers and carefully picked it up or with a tee or something, especially given the fact there were three cameras sitting behind me,” he said. “I should do that no matter who’s watching but especially given there’s three cameras sitting there watching.”

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Adding that “in my heart of hearts” it didn’t affect the shot, Herbert said that he had no option but to accept the penalty in order to preserve his own character as much as anything else.

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“I didn’t want to be labelled as somebody who doesn’t play the game fairly,” he said. “We saw how badly it came off in Australian sport last year when the whole cricket saga came about and I can sit here today and guarantee you that’s not what I’m about.

“A lot of stuff has come up on Twitter and people are making some pretty strong accusations. I’ve kept very quiet about it all, more because I just wanted to explain everything that went on in a forum like this.”

Your thoughts?

What do you make of this incident? Do you believe Herbert’s version of events or do you think this looks like a deliberate act of cheating? Leave your thoughts in our Comments section below.


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Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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