Masters 2013: Should Tiger Woods have been disqualified?

By Rob HodgettsBBC Sport at Augusta
How Tiger Woods got into trouble

The rules are the rules, whether you are 14 years old or a 14-time major champion.

It's the interpretation of them that makes the difference.

Not 24 hours after Chinese teenager Guan Tianlang was penalised a shot for slow play, Tiger Woods escaped disqualification from the Masters after an illegal drop.

Golf is a game that prides itself on integrity. The rules are complicated and myriad but adhered to diligently and in most cases unflinchingly. Players often call penalties on themselves. Not knowing the rules is not accepted as an excuse.

Woods is the biggest name in golf and on the comeback trail. Back at world number one after scandal and injury derailed his career and back chasing Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles. A fifth Green Jacket and first major since 2008 is, or was, on the cards.

Woods was tied for the lead after 14 holes of his second round. Augusta was alive and the Masters was set up for a thrilling weekend.

But then Woods's third shot to the long 15th hit the flagstick and ricocheted back into the pond in front of the green. That half-inch diameter of metal will go down in history.

This gave him three options. He could drop the ball in the designated drop zone short of the pond; he could go back as far as he wanted on the line the ball last crossed the hazard; or he could go back to play the ball "as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played".

Woods chose the latter, pitched on and escaped with "just" a bogey, finishing his round at three under.

Tiger Woods Masters penalty: analysis and reaction

However, news broke late on Friday night that there was a problem. On Saturday morning, the Augusta National released a statement saying they were alerted to the incident by a TV viewer before Woods finished his round.

The club claims it initially deemed Woods's drop legal, but decided to review the incident after he said in a post-round interview he dropped the ball "two yards further back".

The statement said it was then determined he had violated the rule governing drops from yellow-marked (lateral) water hazards - and handed a two-shot penalty. Historically, that would have meant disqualification as he had signed for the wrong score - a six rather than an eight.

But a relatively recent rule amendment was introduced, essentially to guard against players being disqualified for things they had no knowledge of, such as minute movements of the ball picked up by high-definition cameras, as happened to Padraig Harrington in Abu Dhabi in 2011.

Masters officials said: "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."

But grey is the new green at Augusta and questions remain, even after rules boss Fred Ridley sought to explain the situation.

Woods claimed on Twitter he didn't know before he signed his card he had taken an illegal drop, but did he drop the ball "as close as possible" to his original mark? Pictures and TV replays suggest not, but how, exactly, do you define "as close as possible?"

Ridley said: "The rule doesn't prescribe exactly what's right and wrong. Clearly it would have been better if Tiger had dropped the ball closer to his actual divot."

Was Woods deliberately seeking an advantage? His quotes didn't look good. "I went back to where I played it from, but I went two yards further back," he said. "I tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit - that should land me short of the flag and not have it either hit the flag or skip over the back."

Ridley claimed nothing he said made him believe Woods "knowingly violated the rule".

Also, why wasn't he informed earlier there was a question mark over his drop? He could have had time to address it. Ridley said the committee were happy with the drop, so why would he need to know.

The change of mind came after speaking with Woods. "Based on his very forthright and honest answers, I told Tiger that in light of that information we felt he had violated the rule."

Sir Nick Faldo was adamant Woods was in the wrong. "That's the greatest thing about our game, the rules are black and white. That's a breach of the rules. Simple as that," he said on the Golf Channel.

Faldo said Woods should disqualify himself, for the good of the game. And for his reputation.

"We are custodians of it and we carry that forward," the six-time major champion told 5 live. "This is a dreadful mark over what we have done.

"This is a very historic moment in our game."

Augusta officials were in a tight spot. Woods's disqualification would have left a gaping hole in the 77th Masters.external-link On the other hand, if he remained they would face criticism for favouritism, particularly in light of Guan's letter-of-the law penalty.

Plenty will say Woods can't win, even if he wins. That what would be his 15th major title would be tainted and should always have an asterisk attached to it. That his final major haul will always be in question. Imagine if he ends tied on 18 with Nicklaus.

For simplicity's sake, it would help if Woods doesn't win, or lose, by one or two shots.

When asked about Guan's slow-play penalty, which many observers thought harsh, Woods said "Well, the rules are the rules."

But if the rules are the rules, and if this particular one has been applied correctly, then Woods has been handed the appropriate sanction and should be able to play on untainted.


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