The Tiger Ruling

I know you’ve probably read 10-too-many opinions on Tiger’s drama at the 15th on
Friday at Augusta, but I haven’t had the opportunity to offer mine yet, so please bear with
me. I’ll try to be quick.

First and foremost, I, like many of you, just learned about Rule 33, which was amended
in 2011 by both the USGA and the R&A to address a possible disqualification due to a
player who signed an incorrect scorecard as the result of a rules infraction determined
by “recent advances in video technologies.” Basically a rule was put in place to prevent
viewers like you and I from phoning in a rules violation we see from our couch that
ultimately results in a player’s disqualification.

So under the rules of golf, specifically Rule 33 regarding the TV viewer calling in the
violation and Rule 20-7, which states that if a player plays from the wrong place, “…he
incurs a penalty of two strokes,” Tiger’s two-stroke penalty was the correct one.

My biggest question, and one we won’t ever get an answer for, is did Tiger knowingly
take that drop to gain an advantage? He said no. Some, including David Duval, tweeted
that he likely did. Unless you were inside Tiger’s head when it happened or he told you
about it afterward, how could you possibly know this? Sure, you can have your own
opinion, like me, but that’s it, at least for now.

Kendra Graham, a former USGA rules official, offered her interpretation of the situation
in a piece on, stating, “There is a penalty regardless of whether the
player plays from a wrong place on purpose or by accident, knowingly or unknowingly.
Intent has nothing to do with the outcome.”

As you’ll see below, Tiger said he just wasn’t “thinking” when he took that drop. Would
he really knowingly take an improper drop with so many people watching on the course
and on TV? He had to have thought that an official, his playing partners Luke Donald and
Scott Piercy, or a knowledgeable fan, would have called him out on it. Am I right?

Let’s quickly review Tiger’s options after his second shot on No. 15 found the drink.
He had choices to 1) drop the ball as close as possible to the exact spot from where he
had just played his shot, 2) drop the ball in the drop zone or 3) drop the ball as far back
behind the hazard, maintaining a direct line from the point at which the ball last crossed
the hazard.

Let’s start with that third option and work our way back. After Tiger’s ball deflected
off the flagstick, it bounced back off the front of the green and rolled into the front-left
portion of the water. That’s where it last crossed the hazard. For whatever reason, Tiger
did not choose this option.

Tiger discarded the second option after he saw that the grass in the drop zone was
growing against the grain and that the area was “a little bit wet” and “muddy.”
Tiger chose option No. 1: to drop the ball as close as possible to the exact spot from
where he had played his previous shot. Apparently he did not like that spot so he elected
to drop the ball about two yards behind it. That’s where he violated Rule 26.

He was allowed to go as far back as he wanted on the line where the ball last crossed the
hazard, but that was way over to the left of where he had played his previous shot, where
the ball entered the hazard after hitting the flagstick. He was not allowed to go as far back
as he wanted beyond where he played his previous shot because that spot wasn’t on the
line where the ball last crossed the hazard.

If Tiger wanted to play from the spot where he hit his previous shot, he had to drop
the ball as close as possible to that spot. His drop two yards behind the divot from his
previous shot wasn’t deemed “as close as possible.” I think we can all agree on that.
But, and this is a big but, neither the rules officials who were present on the hole nor his
playing partners objected to this drop, correct? No one said anything at the time, and in
discussions later in Tiger’s round, the rules committee and officials who were on hole
No. 15 when it happened concluded that his drop was close enough to where he had
played his last shot.

If Tiger knew that he wasn’t dropping “as close as possible” to the spot where he played
his second shot and went ahead and did it anyway, and then lied about it, we don’t have
a rules of golf violation. Remember, intent isn’t in the equation according to Graham. We
have a major morality violation once again with Mr. Woods.

Here is how he summed up his thought process while making the drop:

Q: Did you think you could go back

[as far as you wanted]? Did you get mixed up with
what you could do there with that drop?

TIGER WOODS: You know, I wasn’t even really thinking. I was still a little ticked at
what happened, and I was just trying to figure, okay, I need to take some yardage off this
shot, and that’s all I was thinking about was trying to make sure I took some yardage off
of it, and evidently, it was pretty obvious, I didn’t drop in the right spot.

He didn’t really answer the question, did he? If he had answered yes, then it’s case
closed. If his answer was something like, “No, I knew that I should have dropped closer
to the divot from my last shot, but I wanted that extra two yards to play the shot from
a more comfortable distance,” then he would have been blasted as a cheater (on the
golf course) and be forced to carry that label with him for the rest of his career. I can’t
imagine Tiger would have taken such a drop to gain an advantage.

Will he continue to be asked this question over and over again throughout his career or
will the media accept his answers from these interviews and put it to rest? I’m not quite
sure. But am I crazy to think he is at least withholding something about what he was
thinking during the incident? Please tell me if I am.

What am I quite sure of is that the two-stroke penalty cost him an excellent chance at his
fifth green jacket and his 15th major. While the four-shot deficit entering the final round
that ultimately resulted after the incident wasn’t insurmountable by any means, I have to
think Tiger would have entered the Sunday licking his chops while trailing by just two

Here’s another snippet from Tiger’s post-round press conference on Sunday.

Q: I know you’re not a what if guy, but looking at it now, the sequence at 15, what did it
mean for your Masters?

TIGER WOODS: Well, we could do that what if in every tournament we lose, so we
lose more tournaments than we win out here on TOUR, so that’s just part of the process
and I’ll go back to it.

Q: Do you think about it at all, the two shots?

TIGER WOODS: No, not when I’m playing. No. Absolutely not. I got to focus on
what I need to do, what where I need to place the golf ball and shoot the lowest score I
possibly could at that moment.

I always thought Tiger was a robot before the November 2009 incident and this just
makes me revert back to that opinion. How could you not at least think about what
transpired on Friday at least once during the final two rounds, especially when playing
the 15th hole? It’s human nature, no? I know Tiger is a different kind of animal, but come
on? Am I wrong again to say that he isn’t being entirely honest? Maybe I’ll ask him at