Tiger’s drop may have not been in wrong place

After viewing side-by-side photos from the Augusta Journal, I actually think that Tiger Woods’ drop at the Masters was within what the rules describe as “close as possible” to where he played the previous shot.

The term “close as possible” leaves a lot of room as it probably should since sometimes when there are lots of similar divots or the lack of divots makes it a guessing game on an exact location.

I think Woods just thought he was moving back two yards, but once he made those comments in the post-round interviews then the Masters rules committee probably made the right decision in giving him a two-stroke penalty.

If Woods had indeed made a birdie four on that hole instead of the eight, he might have been in the playoff with Angel Cabrera and Adam Scott at -9.

During the second round, Woods’ approach to the 15th green ricocheted off the flagstick and into the pond guarding the green. He first went up to the drop area, but decided that it was muddy and into the grain and so he decided to return to the area where he had played that shot. He wedged to three feet, saving what he thought was bogey by making a short putt.

The rules official on that hole did not see any problem with the drop, but he was not that close since he along with his fellow competitors were nearer the green. However, a television viewer thought he had spotted Woods making the drop in the wrong place and checked with one of the rules committee. As always in such cases, the rules officials want to protect the field and checked out the video before Woods finished his round. They thought the drop was “as close as possible” to where he played previously. So nothing was mentioned to Woods before he signed his scorecard. It turns out this was a mistake.

It wasn’t until Woods mentioned in his post-round press conference that he had actually dropped the ball two yards back of his original divot because he didn’t want to hit the flagstick again that the matter suddenly became a big issue. That was when the Committee decided further review was necessary since it had first-hand testimony from the player that indeed his intentions were to drop away from the point where he should have played his next shot.

After meeting with Woods the next morning, it was determined that he had violated Rule 26 by not dropping “as close as possible” to where he had played previously and given a two-stroke penalty. However, the Committee also waived the disqualification penalty for signing for a wrong score under Rule 33-7 because the failure to do so was due to an error by the Committee. Only a Committee can waive a DQ, but must have good reasons.

Woods accepted the penalty, saying “It was pretty obvious I didn’t drop in the right spot.”

The photos in the newspaper showing where he hit the second time certainly looked close enough for me as a rules official to say it looked within the rules, but you have to consider Woods’ intentions were to drop outside what was allowed.

The furor about the situation ignited as posts and blogs, including ones from Nick Faldo and Greg Norman, called for Woods to withdraw from the Masters for the integrity of the game. Some of my fellow media members even went as far as to say Woods cheated.

Woods didn’t cheat. In the moment of competition, he just forgot that while you can go back as far as you want when you keep the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard directly between the hole and the spot where the ball is dropped, he didn’t use that option. Instead he opted to return to the place where he last played a shot and drop the ball “as close as possible.”

There also was no reason for him to withdraw. A player is required to accept a decision of the rules committee and that’s exactly what he did. He deserved to continue to play and had an obligation to his many fans to do just that. I’m sure CBS liked it since Woods always seems to attract more viewers.

Even Jack Nicklaus felt the decision was the correct one and that there was no mreason form him to withdraw either. “If Tiger did that, he’d be putting himself in a position of saying, ‘I’m above the rules.’ You accept the ruling whether it’s good or bad for you.”

Looking back, the Committee should have actually talked to Woods before he signed his scorecard just as the PGA officials did in the case of Dustin Johnston on the 18th hole at Whistling Straits in the 2010 PGA Championship and Woods should have been more familiar with the rules or have asked for a ruling before signing his scorecard.

It’s my opinion also that the Masters Committee would have made the same ruling if another player had been involved.

The Masters is currently the only major that doesn’t have rules officials walking with each group, but I’m sure there will be talk about changing that in the future.

Would one of the referees have given a slow play penalty to one of the professionals instead of the 14-year-old Chinese amateur? Probably, but the professionals are good at knowing when they are on the clock and seem to know how to keep from getting those additional bad times.

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