The Masters: Ruling gives impression Tiger Woods is a protected species

Committee seem to be bending double to prove legitimacy of the world No 1's participation after rule breach

Augusta

The defending Masters Champion Bubba Watson was first out yesterday morning, playing with a marker. It was the most curious sight watching his plodding gait swallow the ground down the 1st on his lonesome. If that were not bizarre enough, he birdied the opening three holes. A story there you would think. There might have been had the Masters Competition Committee not simultaneously been bending double to determine the legitimacy of Tiger Woods's participation.

Woe is the game when accommodations are made to suit the interests of the powerful. In finding a solution to an unfortunate problem engulfing the world No 1 the committee risked the inference that Woods is bigger than the game, that his participation in the greatest golf show on earth is more important than the Rules of Golf law that governs mortals.

Fred Ridley, chairman of the Competition Committee, flatly denied that this was the case, of course. And it should be said that Woods did not act maliciously when he replaced his ball. He thought he was acting as the law permits, dropping his ball on the line of entry to a water hazard behind the spot where he played his original shot. Nothing wrong with that if it is the right line. It wasn't.

In the miserable heat of disappointment he appears to have confused the line of entry with the line of crossing the water. Woods was joint leader of the Masters on five under and hunting the birdie that would take him a shot clear of the field. And what a shot it was, too good in fact, hitting the flag and rebounding into the water. He dismissed the option of the drop zone at the front of the 15th green. The ground was too wet. From there he had to return as near as possible to the original spot or a position behind it on the correct line. His post-round commentary supports the view that he was using the line of entry as his guide. But he chose the wrong one. Sadly, ignorance is no defence. Rule 33-7 (the Counter Rule), introduced in April 2011 to avoid the exclusion of golfers in circumstances in which they could not have known they were signing for a wrong score, says so.

In his explanation about how the committee reached their ruling Ridley made much of the fact that, acting on a tip from a viewer, they reviewed the situation and decided initially that no infringement had been committed. This ultimately saved him. Only when Woods talked through his decision-making afterwards did he implicate himself by admitting he deliberately chose an alternative spot some distance from the original because it gave him an advantage.

This came to light late on Friday evening, at which point members of the committee returned to Augusta National to review the footage. They determined Woods had a case to answer and invited him to clarify his position yesterday morning before docking him two points. He escaped the ultimate sanction because the committee's initial investigation was unable to establish beyond doubt whether a rule had been infringed. Woods was off on a technicality.

"Based on his very forthright and honest answers to the questions that I had, I told Tiger that in light of that information that we felt that he had, in fact, violated Rule 26 under the Rules of Golf and that he was going to have to be penalised. I also told him because we had initially made that determination the previous day after reviewing the ESPN video that he in fact had not violated the rule and that we had elected to make that decision, [but] had not spoken to him, that under Rule 33-7 there was ample reason not to impose the penalty of disqualification but to... impose a two-shot penalty."

That did not pacify many in the golfing community. Sir Nick Faldo initially claimed the incident would leave a permanent stain on Woods's career and argued that he should have disqualified himself. "He should really have sat down and considered this carefully and realised this would leave a stain on his legacy and his life," Faldo said. "What he had to do was think I have to be a bigger man here and accept I have broken the rules of golf.

"Many of us have called penalties on ourselves and been disqualified. And we all got on with it. We've policed ourselves. That's the wonderful thing about golf. Sometimes the black and whiteness is harsh, but Tiger would get massive Brownie points if he stood up and said, 'fair enough, I've broken the rules, and I've walked'. Tiger gained an advantage intentionally. He said so himself. He was judge and jury. He should say I'll call it upon myself. I'm going."

Faldo later softened his stance when presented with more facts. Woods pressed on regardless, walking to the 1st tee and creaming a beauty straight down the middle. There was not a patron in sight who did not want to witness that. Most knew nothing of the controversy when they arrived, since it blew up too late to make the local papers. As the possibility dawned that the big draw might not make the 1st tee the sense of anti-climax was palpable. The cheer he received at 1.45pm local time was like a goal going in at Wembley.

The grey injected into the decision-making was black and white for some. Woods was competing on a false passport. How different it might have been had his ball shaved the stick instead. He might have cleaned up with a birdie and strode into the Friday sunset legitimised by his brilliance not the favour of a committee persuaded on questionable grounds.

There was no such equivocation in earlier meting out a slow-play penalty on a 14-year-old boy when there was no shortage of candidates for that kick in the butt. Sure he was bang to rights. For many, Woods was, too.

What they said

"I think he should WD [withdraw]. He took a drop to gain an advantage. DQ believers aren't wrong. 2-shot penalty believers not wrong. Precedent is set."

David Duval

"It is all about the player and the integrity of the game. Woods violated the rules as he played. #1 carries a greater burden. WD for the game."

Greg Norman

"Two-shot penalty official. I like this ruling because he took an illegal drop but no official brought it to his attn."

Hunter Mahan

"This is a joke. In my opinion anyone else would have been DQ'd. When you sign for the wrong score that's what's supposed to happen."

Shane Lowry

"I understand this new rule now to be fair and it's a good thing. The only problem with this new rule is the consistency of the discretion."

David Lynn

"Take the fact that it was Tiger out of the equation and it is a fair ruling. Since it is him the debate begins about TV ratings etc etc."

Graeme McDowell

"I went down to the drop area... it was muddy and not a good spot to drop. So I went back to where I played it from, but I went two yards further back."

Tiger Woods

"The penalty of disqualification was waived as the Committee had previously reviewed the information and made its initial determination [that Woods had done nothing wrong] prior to the finish of the player's round."

The Rules Committee

"This has clearly changed the lie of the golf ball, absolutely clearly. Tiger would gain massive brownie points if he said, 'You're right, I clearly have broken the rules. And I'll walk.'"

Nick Faldo

The Counter Rule (2011)

"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 scorecard 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 he did not know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his scorecard. 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 scorecard breaches that arise from ignorance of the Rules. It is still the responsibility of the player to know them, while recognising that there may be some rare situations where it is reasonable a player is unaware of the factual circumstances of a breach."

Rule change made by the Competition Committee, chaired by Fred Ridley

Other controversies

1957 Women's US Open winner Jackie Pung disqualified for signing for the wrong score on a hole.

1957 Bobby Locke escaped sanction at the Open for hitting his putt from the wrong place after moving it a club length while marking it.

1968 Roberto De Vicenzo suffered misfortune at the Masters on the par-four 17th in the final round. The Argentinian made a birdie but playing partner Tommy Aaron inadvertently entered a four instead of three on the scorecard. According to the Rules of Golf, the higher score had to stand, and Di Vicenzo missed out on tying for first place.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Midsummer swimwear season is well and truly upon us – but diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice