Tiger Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty Saturday morning for taking an illegal drop on the 15th hole in Friday’s second round of the 77th Masters, but he avoided a disqualification on a decision by the Masters Tournament Rules Committee that is being heavily debated and criticized.
Woods hit the flag on Augusta National Golf Club's 15th green from 87 yards with a wedge and the ball bounced back into water fronting the 15th green.
Woods had three options for a drop and chose to return to the original spot where he played, and according to Rule 26 of the rules of golf, he then had to drop the ball “as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played.”
Woods said in an interview after the round: “I went back to where I played it from,” Woods said, “but I went 2 yards further back and I took, tried to take 2 yards off the shot of what I felt I hit.”
Because it was deemed he played the shot slightly behind the original spot, he was deemed to have taken an illegal drop. Woods signed for a 71 that did not include penalty strokes.
He signed an incorrect scorecard, which generally warrants a disqualification. But a "Statement From Tournament Headquarters” stated the rules committee had analyzed the drop and cleared Woods of a penalty before he signed his scorecard, therefore the retroactive penalty shouldn’t be a disqualification, just the two-stroke penalty.
The Masters Rules Committee is enacting Rule 33-7, a rule that is only a couple years old which states, “A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the committee considers such action warranted.”
The rule allows tournament rules committees to use their discretion in issuing the equivalent of a "get out of jail free" card for breached rules worthy of disqualification.
The penalty dropped Woods from a tie for seventh at 3-under 141 into a tie for 19th at 1-under 143, which is five shots off the pace of leader Jason Day.
Woods said on his Twitter account late Saturday morning: “At hole #15, I took a drop that I thought was correct and in accordance with the rules. I was unaware at that time I had violated any rules. . . . I understand and accept the penalty and respect the Committees’ decision.”
The Statement From Tournament Headquarters reads:
“Yesterday afternoon, the Rules Committee was made aware of a possible Rules violation that involved a drop by Tiger Woods on the 15th hole.
In preparation for his fifth shot, the player dropped the ball in close proximity to where he had played his third shot in apparent conformance with Rule 26. 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 the evidence, the Committee determined he had complied with the rules.
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. Such action would constitute playing from the wrong place.
The subsequent information provided by the player’s interview after he had completed play warranted furthe3r 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. 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.”
Some players and announcers have supported the committee’s ruling, while others, including three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo and Greg Norman, have said Woods should have been disqualified, and because he wasn’t, he should take it upon himself to withdraw from the tournament.
Lew Gach, who teaches Rules and Advanced Rules classes at the Golf Academy of America’s Myrtle Beach campus, said the rules committee has the ability to correct a committee ruling for the protection of the field.
He also believes it's a liberal interpretation of Rule 33-7.
"Rule 6-1 says the player and caddie are responsible for knowing the rules," said Gach, who is a former senior tournament official for the Carolinas PGA who has worked as a rules official in more than 300 pro tournaments. “I think it’s a very generous ruling in that the player is responsible to know what his options are under Rule 26. It was the player’s responsibility to include that two-stroke penalty on his scorecard.”
“[The committee] accepted some of the responsibility on themselves. It’s hard to second-guess another rules committee when you're not involved in the discussions . . . but it’s definitely generous. I'm not aware of any other times this has happened at this level. It may have happened but I’m not aware of it.”