AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods got a reprieve from being disqualified from the 77th Masters and instead was assessed a two-shot penalty Saturday morning for an improper drop during Friday’s second round, one of the more controversial decisions in tournament history.
The penalty, announced just before the start of the third round, left Woods, a four-time Masters champion and No. 1 in the world rankings, five shots off the 36-hole lead and in a tie for 19th place. When he finished Friday, he was at 3-under-par, three off the lead and tied for seventh place. Woods posted a 2-under 70 in the third round and was at 3-under, four shots off the 54-hole lead of Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera.
The ruling centered in Woods drop at the 530-yard 15th after his third shot to the green hit the flag and caromed back into the water guarding the putting service. He went back toward the original position of his ball, but said in an interview afterward that he went 2 yards further back for his fifth shot. He ultimately made a bogey six on the hole. The Rules of Golf state a player must drop nearest to the spot of the original shot in that situation.
According to a statement from Fred Ridley, chairman of the competition committee, “after being prompted by a television viewer, the Rules Committee reviewed a video of the shot while he was playing the 18th hole. At that moment and based on that evidence, the committee determined he had complied with the rules.
“After he signed his scorecard and in a television interview subsequent to the round, the player stated that he played further from the point than where he had played his third shot. Such action would constitute playing from the wrong place. The subsequent information provided by the player’s interview after he had completed play warranted further review and discussion with him this morning.
“After meeting with the player [at 8 a.m. Saturday], it was determined that he had violated Rule 26, and he was assessed a two-stroke penalty. 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.”
Woods responded via Twitter about two hours before he was scheduled to tee off at 1:45 p.m. and wrote: “On hole 15 I took a drop that I thought was correct and in accordance with the rules. I was unaware at that time that I violated any rules…I understand and accept the penalty and respect the committee’s decision.”
Still, there was a subsequent firestorm of criticism of the ruling on social media, with many wondering why he wasn’t disqualified. CBS broadcaster Nick Faldo, a three-time Masters champion speaking on the Golf Channel, said Woods should “do the manly thing” and withdraw from the tournament.
“Tiger should really sit down and think about this and what it will leave on his legacy,” he said. “Personally I think this is dreadful.”
In a news conference early Saturday afternoon, Ridley said “Tiger could not have been more candid. His candor was clear and it helped us make the right decision. … It is the right ruling under these circumstances.”
In a tweet, fellow competitor Hunter Mahan wrote: “two shot penalty official. I like this ruling because he took an illegal drop but no official brought it to his attention.”
In another tweet, former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell wrote: “take the fact that it is Tiger out of the equation and it is a fair ruling.”
Defending champion Bubba Watson just did make the cut of 4-over 148 after what he described as a second round of “Bubba Golf.” His scorecard for his 73 included seven birdies, six bogeys and one double bogey.
“It just comes down to the greens are slower than we’re used to,” he said. “I’m used to it being a lot more difficult and different pin placements and the ball was just not rolling like I thought.”
Why were the greens so slow?
“I just play golf,” he said. “I don’t know how to grow grass.”
Watson was the first man off the tee Saturday and played with noncompeting marker Jeff Nixon, an Augusta National member. Needing only three hours and 20 minutes to get around, Watson posted his best round of the week, a 70 that left him at 2-over 218.
Guan plays on
Six amateurs started the tournament and only one — 14-year-old Chinese eighth-grader Tianlang Guan — made the cut. Guan posted a 77 Saturday, his worst round of the week, but at least he was still playing. Many of the game’s top names were not so fortunate.
Among the missing on the weekend was Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion and runner-up in the 2012 Masters. He posted 6-over 150 with rounds of 74-76 and was among the 32 players who failed to qualify for the final two rounds. McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, also said goodbye, at 5-over 149.