Tiger Woods had an impressive comeback year in 2012, winning three PGA Tour events and climbing to second in the world rankings, and started the 2013 season with high hopes of returning to his former position of dominance.   However, after missing the cut yesterday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship because of a 2-stroke penalty, it seems that Woods might have benefitted from a review of the rule book in the offseason.

On the par-4 fourth hole, Woods drove the ball well right into a sandy area covered by thick vegetation.   Upon examining his lie, Woods determined that his ball was embedded.  No rules official was nearby, so Woods asked one of his playing partners, Martin Kaymer, for confirmation.   Kaymer agreed, and Woods proceeded to take a free drop, pitched back to the fairway, and recorded a bogey.

Unfortunately for Woods, a golf journalist observed the incident and asked a rules official for clarification.  It was ultimately determined that Woods was not entitled to relief.  He was penalized two strokes, which sent him packing back to Florida.

“I thought the ball was embedded,” said Woods after his round.  “Andy [the rules official] said that the ball wasn’t embedded, because it was sandy-based.”

Woods’ ball was imbedded.  The problem was that Rule 25-2 allows relief for an embedded ball only if it is in a “closely mown area” through the green – areas cut to fairway height or less.   Woods had the option of playing the ball as it lay, or declaring the ball unplayable and dropping with a 1-stroke penalty.    (In wet conditions, tournament committees may adopt a local rule permitting relief from an embedded ball anywhere through the green.)

Although the rules of golf do contain some arcane provisions that can provide a trap for the unwary, it is questionable whether Rule 25-2 falls into that category.   Golf professionals (and their caddies) should have a solid working knowledge of the rules.  In Woods’ defense, he appears to be in good company in his less than encyclopedic grasp of the rule book.  Kaymer was equally oblivious to the terms of Rule 25-2, as was Rory McIlroy, who commented:  “I knew he called Martin over.  It was an embedded ball, but through the green doesn’t mean sand – I wouldn’t have known that either.”

It’s a long plane ride from Abu Dhabi to Florida.  Maybe Tiger should pull out that rule book.