Should Tiger Woods have been disqualified?

A view of Tiger Woods as he walks off the 8th ...

A view of Tiger Woods as he walks off the 8th green at Torrey Pines during this morning’s practice round at the 2008 U.S. Open in San Diego, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s never a dull moment at the Masters, right?
First off, a quick breakdown of what happened to Tiger Woods at the 15th hole in Friday’s second round. His approach hit the flag stick and caromed backwards into the water. Video of the shot is embedded below.

Woods had three options with what to do with his next shot since it was not a lateral water hazard:

  1. Replay his shot from “as close as possible” from the original location.
  2. Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the spot where the ball crossed the hazard between the hole and the spot where the ball was dropped.
  3. Play from the designated drop area.

Woods chose the first option, but placed the ball roughly two yards behind his original location, as he told ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi after the round. That is illegal, which under the Rules of Golf, should have resulted in a disqualification from the tournament based on Woods signing for an incorrect scorecard. Instead, Woods was given a two-shot penalty based on rule 33-7 which basically says that in situations where scorecard errors come to light based on the “advances in video technology, a penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.” From the USGA website:

The R&A and the USGA have announced a new interpretation of the rules that apply in limited circumstances not previously contemplated by the Rules of Golf where disqualifications have been caused by score card errors identified as the result of recent advances in video technologies.

This revision to Decision 33-7/4.5 addresses the situation where a player is not aware he has breached a Rule because of facts that he did not know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his score card. Under this revised decision and at the discretion of the Committee, the player still receives the penalty associated with the breach of the underlying Rule, but is not disqualified.

In revising the decision, The R&A and the USGA confirm that the disqualification penalty still applies for score card breaches that arise from ignorance of the Rules of Golf. As such, this decision reinforces that it is still the responsibility of the player to know the Rules, while recognizing that there may be some rare situations where it is reasonable that a player is unaware of the factual circumstances of a breach.

Now, here’s where it gets murky for Woods. In the wording, it says that the disqualification still applies for players who are ignorant towards the Rules of Golf, which we can assume that Woods was in this case. If he knew that what he was doing was wrong, he wouldn’t have dropped his ball two yards behind his original pitch mark. Now, as it relates to this specific situation, Augusta National’s Fred Ridley released a statement discussing their ruling:

Yesterday afternoon, the Rules Committee was made aware of a possible Rules violation that involved a drop by Tiger Woods at 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.

Fred Ridley
Chairman, Competition Committees

So, a couple of points on the statement. First, the idea of fans calling in rulings is something that absolutely needs to go. We’ve seen it happen often in recent years, and it is a serious disadvantage to those players who get more TV time. Players who only have a few shots televised could be cheating all over the place, but because they aren’t shown on TV, nobody can call it in.
Secondly, according to the statement released by Ridley, Augusta National reviewed the video and came to the conclusion that Woods did nothing wrong. So, when he signed his card, everyone was under the assumption that he did everything correctly under the rules that are in place. Essentially, Augusta National put the blame on themselves for not recognizing the mistake at the outset, which appears to be taking some of the heat off of Woods for the error. Third, the idea that somebody could be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard even though the scorecard was approved at the time is completely ludicrous, and I’m assuming that also played a part in the decision. If he was told at any point during the round that he was getting penalized and he still signed the incorrect card, then that’s different. But, he wasn’t told anything until this morning, and as I think we can all agree, it’d be rather difficult for him to go back in time and sign the card correctly. With that said, there will be those who say rules are rules, and he should be gone.
So, we know the ruling, and now comes the fallout. People have been suggesting that this wouldn’t have happened if it was another player. That if, say, Kevin Na had done this, he would have been DQ’d. They might be right about that, but frankly, we don’t actually know that to be true, so it’s unfair to put that on Augusta National.
Secondly, there have been people, namely Nick Faldo and Brandel Chamblee on the Golf Channel, who have suggested that Woods should disqualify himself and leave the course due to the unwritten rules that every player, at the pro level at least, tries to adhere to. That doesn’t make any sense either as Woods was told by the committee that at least in part, the fault was on them. Also, this is obviously impossible to know, but I find it hard to believe that Faldo and Chamblee, were they in the same shoes as Woods, would actually DQ themselves based on the knowledge that they weren’t completely at fault. Would Jack Nicklaus DQ himself in this situation? If you think he would, you’re absolutely crazy. Also, where was a rules official in this situation? There should be one on the course that prevents this type of stuff from happening, but obviously nobody jumped in to stop Woods from placing the ball where he did.
This is what happens when the Rules of Golf muddle the way the game is played. There are far too many grey areas in the way the rules are enforced because there’s too much that’s up for interpretation. There are rules that state that Woods should have been disqualified for the way the incident happened, but there are other rules that say that he shouldn’t, so what are we expected to follow? I don’t know if this will spark change in the way the Rules of Golf are written, but the discussion that has started because of this has certainly caused some to think that change needs to be made. Personally, I think they made the right call, but I do see the other side of the argument. At the very least, things just got a lot more interesting for an event that’s already loaded with storylines.
As of now, Tiger Woods is set to tee off at 1:45 PM ET, five shots back of leader Jason Day.

7 Comments on “Should Tiger Woods have been disqualified?”

  1. Adam

    WOW! Two rules infractions on the same day. Probably to the two most notable players at this years Masters. I do not he should have been disqualified, but a two stroke penalty is definitely warranted. Thanks for the great post!


  2. “As such, this decision reinforces that it is still the responsibility of the player to know the Rules, while recognizing that there may be some rare situations where it is reasonable that a player is unaware of the factual circumstances of a breach.” Not knowing the Rules is not an excuse for breaking them accoridng to this statement. This is why David Fay, prior chief of the USGA thought Tiger should have been DQd. Tiger didn’t know the rule, and he should have known it. This is a total disgrace that he is playing today. EVERY tournament golfer KNOWS he should be out, but not every golfer has the guts to stand up to August National. Bravo Nick Faldo and Brandel Chamblee and David Duval. This isn’t even close.

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