When Tiger Woods’ wedge shot struck the flagstick on the 15th green in the second round of the Masters tournament and careened into the water hazard, it was no doubt one of the worst breaks in Masters history.   A likely birdie became a bogey.   Until Saturday, when it became a triple bogey after Woods was assessed a 2-shot penalty for allegedly dropping the ball in the wrong place.  Many observers and players contended that he should have been disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, or should have disqualified himself.

Because the facts concerning Tiger’s infamous drop were not immediately clear, a fair amount of misinformation was circulated, some of which related to a rules decision issued a couple of years ago that was erroneously cited as the basis for the rules committee’s waiver of the disqualification penalty.  Now that the dust has settled, let’s address the principal issues.

 Q.           Should Tiger Have Been Penalized?

 A.            Probably.

Rather than using the drop area or dropping a ball on a line demarcated by the spot the ball crossed into the hazard and the flagstick (in which case Woods could have gone back as far as he desired), Woods chose to drop the ball “as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played” as permitted by Rule 26-1a. Tiger Woods stated to the media Friday evening that he played the shot a couple of yards back from that point, which triggered a second review of the incident.

However, this admission is contradicted by photographs released Sunday by the Augusta Chronicle that indicate Woods actually dropped the ball very close to the spot from which he played the original shot.   Woods has not disputed that the penalty was appropriate, but contended that he was not aware that the drop was improper when he signed his scorecard.

 Q.           Should Tiger Have Been Disqualified?

 A.            No, but not for the reason cited in a number of news accounts.

Rule 6-6 provides that if a player signs a scorecard that returns a score for a hole that is lower than that actually taken, he is disqualified.   Woods recorded a 6 for the 15th hole, which was determined to have been an 8 after the addition of the penalty.

However, Rule 33-7 provides that the tournament committee may waive the disqualification penalty in “exceptional” cases.    The statement issued by Augusta National explained that the disqualification penalty was waived because, following a call from a television viewer, the incident was reviewed before Woods completed his round and the drop was determined to be within the rules.    Although it appears that Woods was not notified of this review before he signed his card, the committee had the opportunity to do so had it determined that there might have been a problem.  Under these circumstances, the waiver of the disqualification penalty was appropriate.

A number of news reports cited Decision 33-7/4.5, which was issued two years ago in response to viewers with HDTV spotting virtually imperceptible movements of balls on putting greens.   That decision states that a player who signs an improper scorecard will not be disqualified if he “could not reasonably have known or discovered the facts” resulting in a breach of the rules.   This decision is not applicable to Woods’ situation, since he could have reasonably been aware of the place he dropped the ball.   This was not a situation where a technology like HDTV allowed a viewer to detect something the player could not have detected.

 Q.           Should Tiger Have Disqualified Himself?

 A.            No.

A number of players and commentators stated that Woods should have disqualified himself in the spirit of the integrity of the rules of golf.    Underlying such comments was a sense that Woods had deliberately taken an improper drop to gain an advantage.  (Technically Woods did  not have the authority to “disqualify” himself, but could have withdrawn.)

It is highly doubtful that Woods knew that his drop violated the rule.   He was surely rattled by the misfortune of hitting the flagstick and immersed in planning his next shot.   Moreover, given the photographs released Sunday, it is not even clear that Woods dropped in the wrong place.  There has been no contention that he gained any significant advantage.    In some cases, a “serious” breach of the rules, if not corrected, can result in disqualification.  There appeared to be no serious breach here.

In any case, the decision on waiving the disqualification penalty was properly the province of the rules committee, and that decision was appropriate given that the incident was reviewed prior to the completion of Woods’ round.   Given the committee’s decision, there was no basis for Woods to disqualify himself.    The problem would have been avoided had the rules committee been more diligent by speaking to Woods about the incident before he signed his card, further reviewing videotape if necessary, and reaching a conclusive decision.   This is the procedure used at PGA Tour events.    Woods should not be blamed for the committee’s shortcomings.

Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA rules workshop and has officiated in state amateur competitions.  Rules inquiries may be directed to rossgolf@charter.net.