Moving Day at Augusta began with a bang on Saturday as news broke about Tiger Woods being assessed a two-shot penalty for an incorrect drop on No. 15 Friday after his ball struck the flagstick and spun backward into the water.
The unfortunate shot unleashed an explosion of opinion and controversy that resulted in the Masters rules committee making the correct decision not to disqualify Tiger from competition.
Keep in mind that it does not come down to whether Tiger broke a rule or not — he certainly did, and he has admitted it. It is simply the series of events and decisions made by the committee that would have made it unfair to Tiger for him to be disqualified.
So let’s start at the beginning:
Being a water hazard (not lateral) Tiger had four options he could exercise under Rule 26-1:
- Play the ball as it lies, which was not possible because it was submerged in water.
- Take a one-shot penalty and drop his ball in the drop zone at the left side of the fairway toward the grandstand.
- Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped.
- Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played.
Tiger attempted to exercise the fourth option and drop where he hit the prior shot from. At the time, it seemed as though Tiger had proceeded correctly. Between the time that he dropped his ball and the end of his round, the Masters rules committee received a call from a viewer prompting it to reexamine how Tiger proceeded at No. 15. At that time, the committee ruled that Tiger had proceeded correctly, and no penalty was issued.
Many are wondering where the rules official was during all of this. Surely the world’s No. 1 player must have an official with him at all times, right? Yes, pretty much. However, it is the responsibility of the player to call the official in to assist with procedural questions. Rules officials are essential silent observers unless called upon for a ruling, or they can prevent a rules infraction.
So why didn’t the official step in this time?
Since we never saw the official with Tiger short of the pond on No. 15, we can’t be sure. But I have to believe he was up near the green or drop area. From the perspective of the official some 85-plus yards away, those two yards back that Tiger dropped his ball had to look very near to the original spot where he hit from. Therefore there was no reason for him to step in.
In an interview after his round, Tiger stated that he purposely dropped his ball about two yards behind where he hit his original ball from, not knowing he had broken a Rule 26-1. Upon seeing the interview, the committee believed that the ruling warranted further discussion, and they asked Tiger to meet Saturday morning. It was during this meeting that it was deemed that Tiger had not proceeded correctly, and had played his ball from a wrong location.
Playing a ball from an incorrect location in stroke play competition is a two-stroke penalty. However, in Tiger’s case he had already signed his scorecard for a 71. Signing for an incorrect score in stroke play competition will usually result in a disqualification. So why was Tiger not disqualified?
Under Rule 33-7, “A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.” To some, this rule might make it seem like the committee made an exception in Tiger’s case in order to keep the most exciting player in golf in the field for the weekend.
It did not.
Before Tiger finished his round on Friday, the committee had already reviewed what happened on No. 15 and ruled no penalty. Since the committee initially ruled that there was not penalty and thus facilitated the player into signing for an incorrect score, they enacted Rule 33-7 and waived the penalty of disqualification.
Yes, it is the player’s responsibility to know and follow the rules as best he can. However, it would not have been fair to Tiger for the committee to disqualify him from competition.
It was the committee who ruled initially that there should not be a penalty issued. It was the committee who didn’t say anything before Tiger signed for his 71. And it was the committee who reversed its decision and assessed a penalty.
Tiger simply did exactly what the committee instructed him to do. He proceeded under the rules to the best of his knowledge, did not intentionally breach Rule 26-1, and wasn’t told of a possible infraction before he signed his card because the committee had already decided that no penalty was warranted at the time
I fully expect him to continue his exceptional play and make a run at the green jacket. And if Tiger goes on to win The Masters, it will go down as possibly the greatest win of his career.