Augusta, Ga. • Augusta National kept Tiger Woods in the Masters on Saturday, saying it would be "grossly unfair" to disqualify him for a rules violation that club officials didn’t immediately recognize.
In a bizarre twist to a complex case, it was a television viewer’s phone call that ultimately spared the world’s No. 1 player.
Golf fan spots Woods’ violation, prompts review
Golf is the only sport where TV viewers act as rules officials. If a fan sees a violation and it turns out to be true, a player must be penalized. How replay comes into play in other sports and who can invoke it:
Football » Officials can use video evidence to decide certain plays when coaches (not fans) challenge them. A replay official automatically reviews turnovers, scoring plays and some other loose-ball situations and can request the on-field officials review evidence.
Baseball » Umpires use judgment for all calls, but can use video on home runs to determine whether the ball fair or foul, or if it cleared the fence.
Basketball » Referees can check courtside monitors to determine if a basket was a 3-pointer or not, but no calls may be directly influenced by fans.
Hockey » NHL officials monitor games and initiate replays from a “war room” in Toronto to determine if a goal has been scored or not. There is no outside mechanism for a TV crew or viewer to alert someone of a rules violation.
The viewer questioned the way Woods took a penalty drop after his wedge into the par-5 15th hole struck the flag stick and bounced back into the water. Woods dropped the ball two yards behind where he had hit his previous shot, a violation.
Fred Ridley, head of the Masters competition committees, said officials reviewed the video of Woods’ drop and found nothing wrong, so they didn’t bother talking to Woods before he signed for a 71 in the second round, leaving him three shots behind.
It was only after Woods explained in interviews why he took that drop — to land short of the pin — that prompted another call to the club and led to another review. Woods ultimately was given a two-shot penalty Saturday morning, turning the 71 into a 73. But he was not disqualified because of a revised rule (Rule 33-7) that allows players to stay in the tournament if a dispute was based on television evidence.
Even though Woods was guilty of not knowing the rules, Augusta National took the blame for not alerting him of a potential violation pointed out by a TV viewer.
"Our committee had made a decision and Tiger, although he didn’t know that decision, he was entitled to have the benefit of that decision when he signed his scorecard," Ridley said. "And to me, it would have been grossly unfair to Tiger to have disqualified him after our committee had made that decision."
Woods came to the course at 8 a.m. — nearly six hours before his tee time — to review the video with club officials.
In a statement posted on his Twitter account, Woods said he was unaware he had violated the rule. Players can take a drop as far back as they want on a line from the hole to where it crossed the hazard, unless they choose to hit from the original spot. Then, they are to drop as close as possible to the previous shot.
The possibility that Woods might face disqualification caused a bigger buzz than any shot at this Masters, especially one day after 14-year-old Guan Tianlang was penalized one shot for slow play, which nearly caused him to miss the cut.
But this was Tiger Woods, No. 1 in the world, the biggest draw in golf. He had won two straight tournaments coming into the Masters and was the overwhelming favorite to win a green jacket for the first time since 2005 and ended his five-year drought in the majors.
Ridley, a former U.S. Amateur champion who served two years as USGA president, said Woods was candid about his drop and helped the committee make the right decision in docking him two shots.
"At that point, it was either no penalty or a two-shot penalty," Ridley said. "But disqualification this morning was not even on the table."
Rule 33-7 was revised two years ago to account for TV viewers calling in violations that the players might not know until after they have signed their cards. If no one had called in, Augusta National would have had no reason to review the drop. But after Woods implicated himself with his post-round comments, and the club had reviewed the drop and assessed the two-shot penalty, he would have been disqualified.
There is a distinction between not being aware of a violation and not knowing the rules. In this case, Woods didn’t know the rule. The mistake was on the part of Ridley, who didn’t recognize the violation and chose not to talk to Woods before he signed his card.
The club said CBS Sports announcer Jim Nantz alerted Masters officials that Woods’ post-rounds comments were causing some doubts, leading to another review.
Woods had said after his round, "I went back to where I played it from, but went two yards further back and I tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit. And that should land me short of the flag and not have it either hit the flag or skip over the back. I felt that was going to be the right decision to take off four (yards) right there. And I did. It worked out perfectly."
He hit that fifth shot to about 4 feet and made the putt for bogey.
Photos and video replays show his first divot clearly in front of where Woods took the second drop. Ridley said one reason he didn’t see a clear violation the first time was that Woods’ caddie never moved from the original spot. Ridley said the Masters gets a dozen or so calls a day, and he didn’t see a violation.
"It was my decision, because it was a non-violation, that I was not going to go down and tell Tiger that we had considered this and it wasn’t a violation," Ridley said. "I didn’t see at that point in time that really was going to add anything to where we were."
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