AUGUSTA, Georgia, April 13 – Tiger Woods ignored calls to withdraw from the Masters on Saturday after being given a two-stroke penalty for an improper drop at the 15th hole.
The Augusta National Golf Club competition committee issued the penalty for his drop at the par-5 15th hole in Friday’s second round, a violation that could have led to his disqualification.
Instead, Woods fell from three to five strokes behind leader Jason Day of Australia but was allowed to continue playing in the year’s first major championship.
A rule change last year governing such situations allowed for a two-stroke penalty, rather than disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard, for a player who unknowingly makes a penalty.
“The penalty of disqualification was waived,” said committee chairman Fred Ridley, who added that a television viewer prompted the committee to review the shot on Friday and at that time it decided he had complied with the rules.
But comments by Woods in a television interview after the round prompted tournament officials to take another look at the drop, leading to the penalty and calls by some former players to withdraw because he violated the rules.
“He should really sit down and think about this and the mark this will leave on his career, his legacy, everything,” three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo said on The Golf Channel.
“I think Tiger would gain massive brownie points if he stood up and said, ‘You are right, guys, I clearly have broken the rules. And I’ll walk. I’ll see you next week.’”
Woods, in a series of Twitter postings, issued a statement about his version of the situation Saturday before his third round began.
“At hole #15, I took a drop that I thought was correct and in accordance with the rules. I was unaware at that time I had violated any rules,” he wrote.
“I didn’t know I had taken an incorrect drop prior to signing my scorecard. Subsequently, I met with the Masters Committee Saturday morning and was advised they had reviewed the incident prior to the completion of my round.
“Their initial determination was that there was no violation, but they had additional concerns based on my post-round interview. After discussing the situation with them this morning, I was assessed a two-shot penalty.
“I understand and accept the penalty and respect the Committees’ decision.”
The same phrase about respecting the decision was uttered by Chinese teen Guan Tianlang on Friday after he was handed a one-stroke penalty for slow play.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open and has not won the Masters since capturing his fourth green jacket in 2005.
The spectre of Woods having a tainted victory among a record-breaking major total was raised even as spectators and television networks were happy to hear that Woods, golf’s biggest star, would be around for the weekend.
“This is a flagrant, obvious violation,” retired player Brandel Chamblee said. “If Tiger has read the rule it is incumbent on him to say he is in violation and disqualify himself. Anything else is unacceptable.”
“Take the fact that it was Tiger out of the equation and it is a fair ruling,” Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, who missed the cut by a shot, said on Twitter. “Since it is him the debate begins about TV ratings etc etc.”
The penalty was imposed for what Woods did after his third shot at the 15th struck the flagstick and deflected into a water hazard. Woods had the option of playing from the drop area or as near as possible to his prior shot.
Instead, Woods chose to play the shot slightly farther back from his original shot in hopes of not hitting the flagstick yet again, admitting as much after the round.
“I went back to where I played it from, but I went two yards further back. I tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit — that should land me short of the flag and not have it either hit the flag or skip over the back.”
After hearing his comments, the competition committee met with Woods on Saturday morning and decided that he had indeed violated the rule. Those comments also pushed Faldo to call upon him to pull out.
“It’s just dreadful,” Faldo said. “Tiger is judge and jury on this. There is absolutely no intention to drop as close to the divot. That’s a breach of the rules.”
But because of the rule tweak that was adopted last year, Augusta National had an option other than disqualifying Woods and chose to take it.
Woods went from three-under 141 for 36 holes to one-under 143, taking a triple-bogey on a hole where he was so near to a tap-in birdie.
David Duval, who won the 2001 British Open, also called on Woods to withdraw.
“He should WD. He took a drop to gain an advantage,” Duval said on Twitter. “Was there intent to break the rule is the question. There is some leeway with the signing the incorrect card. Not with intentionally not dropping as near as possible.”