Making Sense of Tiger’s Friday Fiasco at 15

Tiger Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty after this controversial drop on the 15th hole.

Tiger Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty after this controversial drop on the 15th hole.

            On the 15th tee during his second round at The Masters, Tiger Woods was tied for the lead at 5-under par. Woods blocked his tee shot into the trees on the right hand side. He was forced to lay up and did so to about 75 yards from the pin, and short of the water hazard (marked with yellow stakes) in front of the green. Woods then hit a nearly perfect wedge shot that struck the bottom portion of the flagstick and spun back into the water.

Wearing an expression that was a cross between bewilderment and silent rage Woods surveyed the three options for his next shot. He walked to the designated drop area, but determined the shot was not favorable. His other options under Rule 26 of the Rules of Golf were to

a) Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or

b) Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped.

Woods chose option a, and dropped his ball behind where his first shot was played. He struck another fine wedge shot that stopped 4 feet left of the cup. He made the bogey putt.


Apparently a television viewer called (whom this viewer called, what number was dialed, to whom they spoke is a mystery which shall never be solved) the Rules Committee to inform them that Woods took an improper drop by not dropping his ball as nearly as possible to the spot where the original ball was played from. In a letter released by Committee Chairman Fred Ridley, a former president of the USGA, it was stated that the committee initially found no issue with Woods’ drop. He was cleared to sign his scorecard for a 1-under 71, putting him 3-under for the tournament.

In his post-round interview with ESPN Tiger admitted to dropping his ball 2 yards behind the original spot. In doing so he admitted to not dropping as nearly as possible. Upon hearing these comments the Committee reviewed the situation again.

On Saturday morning, as the third round was beginning, the Committee announced that Woods would be assessed a two-stroke penalty for taking an illegal drop. This came after a meeting with Woods to discuss the infraction. Woods’ score on 15 was adjusted to an 8 and his total score for the round a 1-over 73. This placed him at 1-under par for the Tournament.

All of these details were laid out by the Augusta National Rules Committee in the letter below:


Through all of this, several golf media members began to cry that Woods should withdraw or disqualify himself. Initially, the charge would be signing an incorrect scorecard. After the Committee announced its decision the call changed to Woods withdrawing because of his illegal drop. As stated in Rule 26, the penalty for an illegal drop is 2 strokes, which Woods was assessed, albeit later than he should have been. The Committee invoked Rule 33, essentially giving them discretion to not DQ Woods for signing an incorrect scorecard, citing the initial ruling that the drop was legal.  From there the fire and brimstone mob was in full effect.

Apparently citing rule 20-5 that if a player intentionally commits a serious breach of the rule (26) to gain an unfair advantage and does not inform the Committee, the player is to be disqualified. That means calling for Woods to be disqualified is insinuating that willfully cheated in front of thousands of fans in attendance and millions of viewers on the biggest stage in golf. I don’t think I could bring myself to assume that any golfer would commit such an act in the same circumstance.

And it has nothing to do with the fallacy that golf is a gentleman’s game. It’s logic.

Woods was in the middle of the fairway on 15, his ball in plain view. If he, or any player were to intentionally drop with the idea of gaining an advantage why would they choose to do it in the middle of the fairway? It would seem more logical to try and commit such treachery in a more discreet area.

Furthermore, although Woods admitted that he dropped his ball two yards behind the original spot, how can it possibly be proven that he did it with the intention of gaining an unfair advantage? More likely he was confused about the two options he had for his fifth shot and blended the two. Stupid? Careless? Yes. Gaining an unfair advantage? No way.

Back to the sanctimonious golf media, namely Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee and CBS analyst Nick Faldo. On Golf Channel’s Live From The Masters show Saturday morning, both men called for Woods to withdraw because the specter of this illegal drop and botched ruling would hang over him for the rest of his career and taint his attempt to pass Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors.


First of all, if Faldo thought Tiger took a bad drop why didn’t he bring it up on the broadcast when Tiger was playing his third and fifth shots? Same question for Chamblee, why not bring up the potentially bad drop on the two-hour edition of Golf Channel’s Live From The Masters after network coverage had ended?

Secondly, The Committee made a ruling, all Tiger can do is abide by it, regardless of whether or not the ruling is in his favor. He would not be a greater sportsman nor would he somehow repair his public image by withdrawing. One writer on twitter actually said that if Tiger would withdraw he would help repair some of the PR damage done by the revelation of his extra-marital affairs in 2009-10.

I’m sorry, but I’m going to need someone to explain to me how withdrawing from a golf tournament over a rules controversy equates in any way to making amends over adultery.

Finally, the chorus of the sanctimonious sang their finale about the end of golf’s honor because of the ruling and lack of withdraw by Woods.

Yes, golf, the honorable game where Augusta National Golf Club, site of The Masters, only admitted its first female members in the fall of 2012. The same club whose founder, Clifford Roberts once stated that at Augusta, “the golfers will be white and the caddies with be black.”

Golf, whose oldest tournament, the (British) Open Championship will be played at Muirfield. The home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, a club who has yet to allow a female member in 2013.

Golf, whose participants (professional and amateur) swear at themselves and their partners, smoke, drink, tell dirty jokes, gamble, complain about their marriages and flirt with beverage cart girls among other “honorable things”.

I love golf. I am truly passionate about golf. But my love and passion for the game comes with no pretense that it is an “honorable game” whose participants have some higher moral character. It’s just not so. Does that make golf or golfers bad? Not at all, it just makes us human.

I hope I am preaching to the choir, the choir of high-and-mighty souls who think that golf is somehow more sacred or that a player should withdraw from the biggest (or any) tournament after the Rules Committee hands down a favorable decision.

And the Rules Committee, they are the ones to blame in this matter. Yes, Woods deserves blame for taking a bad drop. The price to pay? 2 strokes, please play on, Mr. Woods.

But the Rules Committee? We have an issue here. They botched the initial ruling that Woods’ drop was ok. And the rules official with Woods’ group should have pulled Tiger aside to explain that he had made a bad drop BEFORE he played his fifth shot. While it is incumbent upon the player to drop correctly, can he not be informed if he has failed to do so?

Why should golf be played in a “GOTCHA” atmosphere of rule enforcement and administration? Why not let players know immediately if they have committed an infraction, or before they commit the infraction so we can avoid such calamity?

On that note why not take a look at how major championships are officiated as a whole? With the amount of money and prestige that comes with a major, why, in 2013, are players still responsible for administering the rules? Because “that’s the way it has always been done?” If that’s so, then now is the perfect time to change.

There should be rules officials with every group who are timing groups to avoid unfortunate ruling like what happened with Tianlang Guan Friday. The officials should immediately come to the assistance of players, even if they are not asked, on penalties and drops, so players don’t unwittingly breach the rules.

Finally, television/online viewer call-ins should be disallowed. (Talk about sanctimonious) Why is it that a rules official cannot make a correct ruling, but when a viewer calls whatever mystical hotline exists for such numbskulls to call the Rules Committee looks back and reviews the situation. Spectators attending the tournament do not call penalties on players. Those watching from the comfort of home should limit their participation to viewing. It seems to propagate the “Gotcha” attitude when viewers are allowed to affect the outcome of tournaments in this way. The most compelling reason to disallow viewer call-ins is because not every player has the same exposure on TV. Players in contention and players with higher profiles are generally shown more on telecasts. If not every player and every shot is shown, then there is no way to enforce armchair rulings fairly or equitably. It is actually a disadvantage to play well in this case.

As I end my musings on this topic, let’s consider Woods’ situation one last time in a “real-world” context.

Say that in your job you have a certain expectation or performance standard to meet. You are working toward the standard, but a stroke of misfortune sets you back. You do what you believe to be the right thing to catch back up. Your boss reviews your actions and clears everything. However when you come back the next day, your boss says that someone from a different department thinks they saw or heard you do or say something questionable as you tried to catch up. Your boss reopens the case and reverses the original decision, and you have some consequence to pay. Would you stand for someone outside of your department contacting the person who monitors your performance and that same monitor changing a decision based on this outsiders tip? (assuming that the action in question was not some extreme case like embezzling company funds or inappropriate behavior with a co-worker or some similar type of offense). Why then, should Tiger Woods have to withdraw when he was cleared by The Committee but an outsider, not participating in the tournament, said he broke a rule?






10 responses to “Making Sense of Tiger’s Friday Fiasco at 15

  1. Josh

    This entire situation has taken on a new twist! I believe your statement “They botched the initial ruling that Woods’ drop was ok” says it all. I do think that if it was the number 91 guy who was assessed the two stroke penalty, this discussion would be over. I also agree that he should not have to withdraw…..the focus should be on the rules committee error. I do wonder if being number one in the world and that TV ratings are higher when he plays had anything to do with it? Golf at the pro level, like all other sports, is a business and Tiger is good for business. Great post!


    • Jim,
      I’m not sure if you’re on twitter, but the amount of vemon toward Tiger from some in the golf media was shocking! It’s like they all forgot what the rules of golf are. And some completely lost their perspective on the issue, trying to make it a moral issue. Nope, it’s just golf and he was assessed the appropriate penalty for his violation. Nowhere in the Rules of Golf does it say that an illegal drop should result in disqualification. After Tiger’s drop it was all ANGC’s fault that things were fouled up.


      • Josh

        I have been following the entire affair….it is crazy. I am not a real Tiger fan, but lets be realistic, it was definitely the rules committee who botched this whole thing…I wonder if they are asking them to retire?


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  3. I’m afraid you truly are a dimplehead. It is the explicit responsibility of the player and his marker to return a correct score. Rule 33-7 was designed to protect players from breaches of the rules that they could not reasonably be expected to know about. Should Tiger Woods reasonably be expected to know how to proceed and take relief from a water hazard? Of course he should. Rule 33-7 is not designed to exempt players from knowing the rules; rather, it is designed to protect players who know the rules from an infraction they couldn’t be aware of because the violation was so slight as to be imperceptible by human sight or touch (the USGA even gives examples: slight double hit on a short chip from heavy rough, grains of sand that touch a clubhead on a backstroke in a bunker, a player thinking his ball oscillated when it actually moved an infinitesimal distance). So, the Masters Tournament committee made an error when they didn’t consult Tiger prior to him signing his scorecard (we can only speculate why they chose to go this route), but they also attempted to cover for that mistake by misapplying a relatively new rule that had yet to be invoked in any other situation.

    And, yes, golf is different from other games. The players may be scoundrels in many others respects, but the vast majority understand it is a self-policing venture and nearly all serious competitive golfers respect the gravity of this responsibility. While most people who “play golf” do so recreationally may modify the rules and hence are not truly adhering to the spirit of the game, serious competition is a different animal, especially when you are talking about professionals playing for millions of dollars. Many professional golfers may not respect the integrity of their marriage or other aspects of their lives, but they understand their livelihood could be at stake if they do not respect and preserve the integrity of the game.

    Should Tiger have withdrawn? That’s his decision. Personally, I would have withdrawn, but I also understand that he has a defensible reason not to in that he received a Tournament Committee ruling, even if that ruling was a badly mistaken one. But it should never have gotten to the point of Tiger having a choice to withdraw; he should have been disqualified, regardless of how incompetent the Tournament Committee was in their handling of the matter.

    • Thanks for your comment, Adam.
      Obviously, I disagree with your opinion, but that’s great, I don’t mind different opinions. For me, the issues this: 1) Tiger clearly took an illegal drop, the penalty for which is two strokes; 2) while Woods did admit to not dropping as near as possible, it is inconceivable to me that any player would intentionally take an illegal drop in the middle of the fairway at the biggest tournament in the world in front of thousands of spectators (patrons, if you will) and millions of viewers then admit to it on a nationally broadcast interview.

      I just don’t believe that Tiger, nor any other player is that stupid. What was stupid was his not knowing the rule. Misapplying a rule and intentionally breaking a rule are very different. It is my opinion, based on the circumstances, that Tiger was guilty of the former, not the latter.

      It seems that we have common ground regarding the Rules Committee of ANGC. Clearly they missed the bad drop in their initial ruling. I wonder this though; if the Committee had ruled that Woods took an illegal and assessed the two strokes immediately after the round and Tiger still given the same interview where he admitted to intentionally dropping two yards behind the original spot, would the cries for a withdraw still come?

      I welcome future comments from you. However I will respectfully ask that you refrain from namecalling, however innocuous it may seem. And not just from calling me names, but any other readers with whom you might engage.


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