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The discussion tees off with the USGA-R&A joint statement:


uring the second round, Tiger Woods played his third stroke from the fair- way of the 15th hole

to the putting green, where his ball struck the fl agstick and defl ected into the water hazard in front of the green. He elected to take stroke- and-distance relief under Rule 26-1a, incurring a one- stroke penalty (his fourth stroke on the hole). He then dropped and played a ball to the putting green (his fi fth stroke), and holed his putt. After fi nishing his round, he signed and returned his score card, recording a score of 6 for the 15th hole. Before Woods returned

his score card, the Masters tournament committee had received an inquiry from a television viewer question- ing whether Woods had dropped his ball in a wrong place. After reviewing the available video, but without talking with Woods, the committee ruled that he had complied with Rule 26-1a and that no penalty had been incurred. The follow- ing morning, after addi- tional questions had been raised about the incident in a television interview with Woods, the committee talk- ed with Woods, reviewed the video with him and reversed its decision, ruling that he had incurred a two- stroke penalty for dropping

Little did Tiger Woods know that his seemingly innocuous drop on the 15th hole would cause so much controversy. PHOTO: AP

in and playing from a wrong place in breach of Rules 26- 1a and 20-7c.

This also meant that,

in returning his score card the previous day, Woods had breached Rule 6-6d by returning a score (6) for the 15th hole that was lower than his actual score (8). The penalty for such a breach of Rule 6-6d is disqualifi cation. Under Rule 33-7 (“Disquali- fi cation Penalty; Committee Discretion”), a committee has discretion to waive that penalty in “exceptional indi- vidual cases.” The committee elected to invoke that discre- tion and waived Woods’ penalty of disqualifi cation. This situation raised two

questions of interpretation under the Rules of Golf.

Dropped in and Played from a Wrong Place The fi rst question was whether, after taking relief, Woods played his next stroke in accordance with the rules. The Mas- ters committee ultimately answered no and imposed a two-stroke penalty because Woods did not drop and play a ball “as nearly as pos- sible at the spot from which the original ball was last played,” as required under Rule 26-1a. The rules do not defi ne “as nearly as pos- sible” in terms of a specifi c measured distance, because the conditions unique to each situation can affect how near to the original spot it is possible to drop a ball and because dropping

1 The Ruling that Woods

a ball is an imprecise act. In this situation, the original spot was clearly identifi - able as being just behind the back edge of the divot hole created by Woods’ previous stroke; and that there were no other unusual circumstances, “as nearly as possible” means that the player must attempt to drop the ball on or next to (but not nearer the hole than) that spot. Woods did not do so. In his post-round media comments, he stated that he dropped the ball about two yards behind that divot hole. Although the precise distance away was not determined, he clearly dropped the ball a sig- nifi cant distance away from that spot and did not satisfy the “as nearly as possible” requirement in these cir- cumstances. As a result, he was penalized two strokes for dropping in and playing from a wrong place.

Penalty of Disqualifi cation The second question was whether the committee was permitted to waive the pen- alty of disqualifi cation that otherwise applied to Woods under Rule 6-6d, which pro- vides that a competitor “is responsible for the correct- ness of the score recorded

2 The Decision to Waive the

for each hole on his score card. If he returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, he is disqualifi ed.” For nearly 60 years, the rules have provided committees with limited discretion to waive a disqualifi cation penalty. Under Rule 33-7, “[a] penalty of disqualifi ca- tion may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modifi ed or imposed if the committee considers such action warranted.” Such discretion is not intended to protect a competitor from the con- sequences of his erroneous application of the rules. The fact that Woods, when he returned his score card, was not aware that he had in- curred a two-stroke penalty on the 15th hole was not a basis to waive disquali- fi cation under Rule 33-7. Moreover, contrary to what some have suggested, the decision of the committee to waive the disqualifi cation penalty for Woods was not and could not have been based on Decision 33-7/4.5, a 2011 decision that permits waiver of disqualifi cation where “the competitor could not reasonably have known or discovered the facts resulting in his breach of the rules.” That extremely narrow exception, which relates generally to use of high-defi nition or slow- motion video to identify facts not reasonably visible to the naked eye, was not applicable here and had no bearing on the committee’s decision. Woods was aware of the only relevant fact: the location of the spot from which he last played his ball. His two-stroke penalty resulted from an errone-

SUMMER 2013 / NCGA.ORG / 61

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