Two wrongs make a right for Woods

American’s drop was illegal but wrong rule call let world number one off the hook


In the lexicon of his own alphabet words, Tiger Woods reserves a special place for the one-letter “W” – for winning – which he uses as a barometer of his success.

Yesterday, another angle – as in wrong – came into the golfing dictionary as the USGA and the R&A issued a joint statement explaining the ruling that saved the world number one from disqualification at last month’s US Masters for taking an illegal drop.

The synopsis from the two governing bodies is lengthy, but at least the fuzzy grey area has been (for the most part) clarified. Yes, Woods was wrong in the drop he took on the 15th hole of his second round. Yes, Fred Ridley, the Masters tournament official, was wrong for not approaching the player after being made aware of a possible transgression of the rules by a TV “viewer” who, it turns out, was the highly respected David Eger.

Two wrongs
In this case, two wrongs conspired to make a right as the USGA and the R&A clarified that although Woods broke the rules with an illegal drop and consequently an incorrect score, he was extended the lifeline to stay in the tournament (receiving a belated two-shot penalty rather than disqualification) because Ridley, the tournament competition committee chairman, made an “erroneous” application of the rule.

The statement is clear that Woods made an error, and that ignorance of the rules is not a defence. “Viewing the incident solely from the standpoint of Woods’ action, there was no basis to waive the penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d,” the statement acknowledged. However, because tournament officials had been made aware of the transgression, viewed the video and made the incorrect decision not to make Woods aware of the infringement, the USGA and the R&A believed that the second wrong made it possible and fair to apply the retrospective two-shot penalty rather than disqualification under Rule 33-7.

Woods escaped, so to speak, under Decision 33-7/4.5 which was brought into the rule book as a revision in 2011 to permit waivers of disqualification when the competitor could not reasonably have known or discovered the facts resulting in his breach of the rules.

The statement further explained that Decision 33-7/4.5 should be applied only in extremely narrow circumstances, which relates generally to the use of high-definition or slow-motion replays to identify facts not immediately visible to the naked eye.

Incorrect scorecard
The USGA and the R&A did, however, make the observation that the decision not to disqualify Woods will not serve as a precedent for waiving the penalty – ie disqualification – for signing an incorrect scorecard.

“The Woods ruling was based on exceptional facts, as required by Rule 33-7, and should not be viewed as a general precedent for relaxing or ignoring a competitor’s essential obligation under the Rules to return a correct score card.

“Further, although a Committee should do its best to alert competitors to potential Rules issues that may come to its attention, it has no general obligation to do so; and the fact that a Committee may be aware of such a potential issue before the competitor returns his score card should not, in and of itself, be a basis for waiving a penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d.

“Only a rare set of facts, akin to the exceptional facts at the 2013 Masters Tournament . . . (would justify) use of its discretion to waive a penalty of disqualification for returning an incorrect score card,” explained the statement.