The rule Tiger Woods violated is in place because, at a major tournament, everyone is watching. (Tannen Maury / EPA)

Tiger Woods’s nightmare at the 15th hole Friday afternoon at the Masters went from bad to worst today when he was assessed a two-shot penalty for taking an illegal drop.

Woods had to take the drop when his third shot hit the flagstick and rolled into the water. Rather than drop the ball at the spot of the divot he created when he struck the ball, he told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi that he chose to move it.

“I looked over the drop area. It wasn’t very good. It was into the grain, tough shot. So I went back to where I was and actually took two yards further back and tried to hit another two yards off of what I felt like I hit it.”

And that was the problem. From The Post’s Barry Svrluga:

[T]he 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.

Masters officials have not yet explained how Woods’s violation fits that description.

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 Rules 26-1 in the United States Golf Association’s “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.”

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

Woods is now 2-under, and tumbles from a tie for seventh, three shots back of leader Jason Day, to a tie for 19th. It was a shocking penalty for Woods, the four-time champion who fell from the lead with his calamity at 15, but at least he wasn’t disqualified.

Still, the penalty drew a mixture of reactions. Co-leader Fred Couples told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt that “it’s a blessing for every golf pro in the world. We all know that we’ll get the same ruling if it happens to one of us.” Nick Faldo called on Woods to “do the manly thing” and withdraw from the tournament.

He will not do so, however. He was on the practice tee, preparing for his 1:45 p.m. tee time.




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