Tiger Woods penalized two shots but escapes disqualification for rules violation

Masters officials have issued Tiger Woods a two-shot penalty based on an illegal drop in Friday’s second round, a decision that allows Woods to remain in the tournament but certainly won’t end the controversy around the issue.

Woods was summoned to Augusta National Golf Club on Saturday morning, and he met with officials including Billy Payne, the club’s chairman who runs the Masters. The resolution of the issue means Woods will keep his 1:45 p.m. tee time in Saturday’s third round, but will begin play at 1 under par, instead of 3 under par.

“At hole #15, I took a drop that I thought was correct and in accordance with the rules,” Woods wrote on Twitter Saturday morning. “I was unaware at that time I had violated any rules. …

“I was assessed a two-shot penalty. I understand and accept the penalty and respect the Committees’ decision.”

Masters officials issued a statement just before 10:30 a.m. Saturday, explaining that the situation “warranted further review and discussion with him this morning.”

“After meeting with the player, it was determined that he had violated Rule 26, and he was assessed a two-stroke penalty,” Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National’s competition committee, said in the statement. “The penalty of disqualification was waived by the Committee under Rule 33 as the Committee had previously reviewed the information and made its initial determination prior to the finish of the player’s round.”

According to Rule 33-7 of the United States Golf Association’s “Rules of Golf,” “A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.”

The exceptionally unusual situation — which had golf commentators, including three-time Masters champ Nick Faldo, calling for Woods to withdraw — results from Woods’s most disappointing moment in Friday’s second round, when he hit what appeared to be an excellent pitch shot into the 15th green. The ball, though, bounced off the flagstick and ricocheted back into the water that runs in front of the green.

At the time, it appeared only to be a bit of remarkable misfortune. But golf’s rules are nothing if not arcane, and each televised shot is monitored by millions of potential amateur referees. Not long after Woods spoke to reporters about the situation, television viewers began wondering about the propriety of what he had done.

Indeed, the two-shot penalty in this situation exists only because of television. Two years ago, the United States Golf Association altered its rules to allow players who learn of rules violations after signing their scorecards to continue play in competition, but be docked two shots. The change resulted from incidents of viewers noticing slight violations, some visible only because of high-definition, slow-motion replays, and calling tournament officials to report them.

After his ball entered the water at the 15th, Woods could have played his next shot from a designated “drop zone,” a circular area from which players who hit shots into the water may continue play. Woods, though, said in remarks that were later televised that the drop area was “a little bit wet, so it was muddy and not a good spot to drop.”

In such an instance, according to Rule 26-1 in the “Rules of Golf,” he had two remaining options. He could have dropped a new ball “as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played.” Or he could have dropped “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.”

Ridley, in his statement, said officials reviewed the issue prior to the completion of Woods’s round.

“In preparation for his fifth shot, the player dropped his ball in close proximity to where he had played his third shot in apparent conformance to Rule 26,” Ridley said. “After being prompted by a television viewer, the Rules Committee reviewed a video of the shot while he was playing the 18th hole. At that moment and based on that evidence, the Committee determined he had complied with the rules.”

But Woods, from his explanation to reporters, appeared to combine the two rules.

“So I went back to where I played it from, but I went two yards further back,” Woods said.

The two-stroke penalty resulted directly from Woods’s post-round interviews. Woods went back on a line that did not correspond with the point at which his ball crossed the water, and then two yards further back, by his own admission. After it bounced off the pin, Woods’s original shot entered the water well left of the point from which he struck it.

“I tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit,” Woods said. “And that should land me short of the flag and not have it either hit the flag or skip over the back.”

Woods executed the shot perfectly, landing it a few feet from the flag. He holed the putt for what appeared to be a bogey.

“After he signed his scorecard, and in a television interview subsequent to the round, the player stated that he played further from the point than where he had played his third shot,” Ridley wrote. “Such action would constitute playing from the wrong place. The subsequent information provided by the player’s interview after he had completed play warranted further review and discussion with him this morning.”

Woods signed his scorecard for a 1-under-par 71, the score everyone at Augusta felt he shot. But he it will now be recorded as a 1-over 73, leaving him 1 under for the tournament. If he chooses not to withdraw, he will tee off at 1:45 p.m., trailing leader Jason Day by five shots, not three.

Barry Svrluga is the national baseball writer for The Washington Post.
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