How Golf's New Rules Saved Tiger Woods from Disqualification at the Masters

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2013

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 12:  Tiger Woods of the United States looks on from the 7th hole during the second round of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

When news broke regarding the potential illegality of Tiger Wood's drop at the 15th hole during Friday's second round of the Masters, many believed that the No. 1 player in the world would be disqualified.

Because of recent rule changes and a technicality, however, Woods was penalized two strokes instead.

According to Steve DiMeglio of USA Today, Masters officials released a statement 40 minutes after the beginning of the third round relating that Woods would be penalized two strokes for the infraction. Woods was three shots behind leader Jason Day at three-under par, but he now sits five shots back at one-under par.

Had the incident happened in previous years, Woods likely would have been disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Woods ultimately bogeyed the hole and finished one under par for the day. By rule, Woods should have been penalized for the drop, however, so his scorecard was technically inaccurate.

According to DiMeglio, though, the U.S. Golf Association relaxed disqualification rules following an incident with Padraig Harrington during a European Tour event. Harrington's ball moved slightly prior to a putt, but he didn't notice it. Someone watching at home notified officials, however, and it was determined that Harrington should have been assessed a penalty. He signed a scorecard without the penalty and was subsequently disqualified.

The new rule states that a golfer shouldn't be disqualified based on "facts that (the golfer) didn't know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his scorecard. Thus, stroke penalties will be added to a score retrospectively," according to DiMeglio.

Woods' situation is different than that of Harrington because Woods knowingly dropped his ball two yards behind the original spot. According to The Guardian, Woods decided to drop the ball where he did since the initial spot was undesirable:

I went down to the drop area, that wasn't going to be a good spot, because obviously it's into the grain, it's really grainy there.

And it was a little bit wet. So it was muddy and not a good spot to drop.

So I went back to where I played it from, but I went two yards further back.

An additional rule is what truly saved Woods from disqualification, though. According to a statement released by competition-committee chairman Fred Ridley and published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Woods was penalized by a two-stroke addition rather than disqualification because his drop was initially deemed to be legal.

Much like Harrington's situation on the European Tour, Ridley said in his statement that a viewer watching at home called officials to alert them that Woods may have dropped incorrectly. Those officials then reviewed the potential infraction and determined that it was actually legal.

Because of that, Woods' scorecard was not incorrect upon completion of the round.

It wasn't until Woods' comments in his post-round press conference that the officials ruled his drop to be illegal.

Since the decision was made after the round, Woods could not be disqualified, and he was penalized two strokes instead.

It's certainly a lot to keep track of, but it appears as though the two-stroke penalty was the correct call in comparison to disqualification based on the fact that Woods didn't know his drop was illegal until after the round. Even so, the process by which that was determined is shady at best.

There is no other sport in the world in which a player can be investigated during play due to a fan making a phone call. That would be the equivalent of somebody watching a football game, seeing a penalty that wasn't called, calling the officials and then having the officials enforce the infraction.

Also, it's unbelievable that the officials are able to go back and make changes based on what the player says following the round. Bad calls are often made in sports, and it isn't uncommon for a player to admit that he benefited from an incorrect call once the game comes to an end. Once the call is made in most sports, though, the issue is over and done with.

Based on what happened to Woods, no golfer is ever going to be honest or forthcoming in his interviews ever again. Had Woods simply said that he dropped the ball in the correct spot, then he wouldn't have been penalized at all. Due to the fact that he admitted he dropped it two yards behind the original spot, he was penalized retroactively.

In one respect, perhaps Woods should be thanking his lucky stars that he gets to continue playing, but at the same time, he has to miffed that golf officials can essentially go back and revise whatever they please.

It's an incredibly unfair system, and it's something that absolutely must be addressed and changed moving forward.


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