ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Golfers will no longer be penalized if their ball moves after it has been addressed in one of a number of rule changes announced Monday by the sport's governing body.

Rory McIlroy and Webb Simpson were among those to have been hit with one-shot penalties this year for what is widely regarded as one of the harshest rules in golf.

The revision was made by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which issues the sport's rules in conjunction with the USGA, the governing golf organization in the United States and Mexico.

Beginning Jan. 1 and until 2015, players will not be punished if the ball moves after the address "when it is known or virtually certain that he did not cause the ball to move."

"Every time the wind blows, I am worried that my ball is going to move and I am worried about grounding my putter, distracting me from trying to hole my putt," said Padraig Harrington, three-time major winner who is an R&A ambassador.

McIlroy, the U.S. Open champion who is ranked No. 3, was penalized in his final round at the British Open at Royal St. George's. The consequences weren't dire for McIlroy -- he had little chance of winning and finished 25th -- but the same cannot be said of Simpson during the final round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in May.

The American was leading by a shot and closing in on what would have been his first title when his ball moved on the 15th green. After receiving a one-stroke penalty, he eventually lost in a playoff to compatriot Bubba Watson.

Simpson lost the PGA Tour money title to Luke Donald on Sunday by a margin of $335,861 -- the difference between first and second place at the Zurich Classic was $460,800.

Simpson at the time labeled the sanction "such a bad rule."

Other changes announced by the R&A include allowing players to smooth sand or soil before playing from a hazard "provided it is for the sole purpose of caring for the course and Rule 13-2 (improving lie, area of intended stance or swing or line of play) is not breached."

Golfers will also no longer be automatically disqualified from a tournament if they start late, but within five minutes of their assigned tee time.

Instead, they will lose the first hole in match play or two shots at the first hole in stroke play.

"I am delighted with the changes, in particular the ball moving after address," Harrington said. "It is definitely giving us players a little bit of a break."

In addition, the R&A has amended the definition of addressing the ball to mean "simply ... grounding his club immediately in front of or behind the ball, regardless of whether or not he has taken his stance."

Before, the address position required a player to be stood over the ball with the club grounded.

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