In one of the most controversial decisions in golf history, Tiger Woods will be allowed to continue to play the Masters despite breaking a rule that could’ve seen him disqualified.
The Masters rules committee on Saturday morning showed leniency and assessed Woods a two-shot penalty instead of disqualifying him.
Woods then shot a 2-under-par 70 in the third round and sits at 3 under, four shots behind leaders Angel Cabrera and Brandt Snedeker, entering Sunday’s final round.
In Friday’s second round, Woods took a penalty drop that turned out to be incorrect after hitting his third shot into the par-5 15th hole off the flagstick and into the water.
The world No. 1 chose not to use the "drop zone" to the left of the green. Instead, he dropped near the spot from where he’d played the third shot.
He hit a very good shot and saved a bogey.
It was revealed on Saturday morning that a television viewer called Augusta National after Woods had played that shot to say he’d broken a rule by not hitting from the correct spot.
"The Rules Committee reviewed a video of the shot while he was playing the 18th hole," Fred Ridley, the competition committee chairman, said in a statement. “At that moment and based on that evidence, the Committee determined he had complied with the Rules."
However, Woods later admitted in media interviews that he had played the shot 2 yards behind his original spot. The Rules of Golf allow a player to either drop in line with where the ball last crossed the water hazard — which was about 30 yards left of where he was — or play from the original spot.
The fact that Woods admitted to dropping the ball 2 yards further back caused an explosion on social media networks and prompted a further review by the Masters.
They spoke to Woods on Saturday morning and assessed him a two-stroke penalty.
They could have disqualified him for signing an incorrect scorecard but invoked a rule that allows them essentially to instead commute the sentence.
Rule 26-1 states that if a player chooses to go back to his original spot, the ball should be dropped as “nearly as possible” to the spot where it was last played. Photos and video shows his ball dropped at least a yard behind his previous divot.
"After meeting with the player, it was determined that he had violated Rule 26, and he was assessed a two-stroke penalty,” Ridley said in the statement. He said the penalty of disqualification was waived under Rule 33 because the committee “had previously reviewed the information and made its initial determination prior to the finish of the player’s round.”
Rule 33 states that disqualification can be waived at the committee’s discretion. However, a decision that accompanies this rule states that the committee would not be justified to waive the DQ if it was a result of the player’s ignorance of the rules or if he could have reasonably discovered his mistake before signing his scorecard.
Other than Roberto De Vicenzo — who famously was denied making a playoff for the 1968 Masters because he signed an incorrect scorecard — Augusta National has been kind to players when it comes to rulings.
Arnold Palmer, Dow Finsterwald, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy all have benefited from lenient rulings.
On Saturday morning, Woods’ score was adjusted to 73, putting him 5 shots back of second-round leader Jason Day.
Woods issued a series of Twitter messages Saturday regarding the incident, stating: "At hole #15, I took a drop that I thought was correct and in accordance with the rules. I was unaware at that time I had violated any rules. I didn’t know I had taken an incorrect drop prior to signing my scorecard. … I understand and accept the penalty and respect the Committees’ decision."
There were those calling for Woods to voluntarily withdraw, though his close friend Notah Begay said that would be unlikely.
“The drop wasn’t as close as where it needed to be and … that would be a DQ,” he conceded.
“But I think Tiger’s probably going to play today and do his best to put it behind him.”