By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) If we’re going to take the Masters’ word for it, then there was absolutely no reason for Tiger Woods to withdraw from the tournament before he teed off this afternoon.
And unfortunately, the Masters’ word is all we have right now.
Woods was handed a two-stroke penalty Saturday morning for an illegal drop he made on the 15th hole Friday, one that caused him to sign an incorrect scorecard, which usually leads to automatic disqualification.
But Woods was not disqualified and here’s why, according to a statement released by Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters Competition Committee:
Yesterday afternoon, the Rules Committee was made aware of a possible Rules violation that involved a drop by Tiger Woods on the 15th hole.
In preparation for his fifth shot, the player dropped his ball in close proximity to where he had played his third shot in apparent conformance with Rule 26. 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, 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.
Here’s what we know: Tiger dropped the ball at least two feet away from his original shot, which is illegal. He admitted as much in his post-round interview with Tom Rinaldi (in fact he said it was two yards away) and he said he did so to make sure his subsequent shot landed short of the flag. He confused the rules, thought his strategy was legal and he executed a perfect shot and got out with a bogey.
It wasn’t legal though and should have resulted in a two-shot penalty. And if he signed a scorecard without assessing the two-stroke penalty, then he should have been disqualified.
But here’s the problem. According to Ridley’s statement, the rules committee reviewed the video and ruled the drop OK before he signed his scorecard. Woods was obviously under the impression that his drop was legal (otherwise he wouldn’t have done it in the first place) and the rules committee deemed it legal before he signed his card.
And that’s what people who are calling for Woods to withdraw are forgetting. The penalty for an illegal drop is two-strokes, NOT disqualification. The disqualification comes in when a player signs an incorrect scorecard. And if the Masters determined the drop was legal before he signed the card, then why should he pull himself out of the tournament now just because they changed their mind?
Of course, this is assuming that the committee did indeed review the drop before he finished his round and signed the card. It’s always possible that they just put that in their statement as an excuse to keep Tiger in the tournament. And if that’s the case, then Tiger knows the truth inside and should withdraw.
But as unfaithful as Tiger has been off the course, he has always played by the rules on the course, so I personally believe there is no credence to that conspiracy theory.
Tiger was completely honest about the drop after his round was over, admitting to Rinaldi that he moved the ball backward to gain an advantage. But based on what he thought at the time — and what the rules committee had deemed legal already — Tiger didn’t think he was breaking a rule.
Of course, he did break a rule and it’s unfathomable how the rules committee originally deemed the drop legal when the video clearly showed otherwise.
But they did and that’s not Tiger’s fault.
Tiger hadn’t seen the video before he signed the scorecard and he thought he dropped the ball legally, something the committee originally backed him up on. You can’t go back and disqualify a guy if you deemed the drop legal before he signed his scorecard.
Not only was there absolutely no reason for Tiger Woods to withdraw, but there’s also absolutely no reason why a victory this weekend should be tainted. After all, the correct 2-stroke penalty was applied.
Tiger started Saturday’s round at 1-under par through 36 holes — right where he should’ve been.
With a clear conscience.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHoge and read more of his columns here.