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  • Alistair Tait

The Worst Ruling In Golf History?

Tiger Woods is naturally hogging all the headlines in this week’s Masters. It was the same nine years ago when arguably the worst ruling in golf history took place on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National.

It's a ruling that divided golf fans then, and probably still does.

There was anxiety behind the scenes at Augusta National on this day nine years ago. The green jackets were in a wee bit of tizzy about what do about the star attraction.

Woods had taken a drop on the par-5 15th hole the previous day after his ball struck the flack stick and bounced back into the pond that fronts the green.

The then 14-time major winner took a drop on the fairway and played his fourth shot. When asked about the situation afterwards, Woods said:

"I went back to where I played it from, but I went two yards further back and I took, tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit," Woods said. "And that should land me short of the flag and not have it either hit the flag or skip over the back,” to which Woods added that the move “worked out perfectly.”

Of course, in explaining the situation Woods had incriminated himself. He’d taken a wrong drop. Furthermore, he’d already signed his card.

Woods thought nothing of it until the following morning when he…

“…woke up to a text message from my manager to call him; it's never a good thing when that happens. He explained the situation, then I call up Fred (Ridley, the championship committee chairman) and came in to explain things to him.”

It turned out later that Masters officials had been alerted to the rules infraction while Woods was still on the golf course the previous day yet, for reasons which still seem unfathomable, chose not to question him about the matter.

Rule 6-6d in the old Rules of Golf book was inviolate. Sign for a score lower than you actually took and it was automatic disqualification. Yet Woods was assessed a two-shot penalty and allowed to continue in the tournament.

The green jackets had a bit of an escape route, since a 2011 amendment to the laws of the game decreed that disqualification wasn’t an automatic outcome of a retrospective violation.

However, in taking a wrong drop, Woods had clearly given himself an advantage. As he said, that two extra yards meant he would not hit the flag or fly the green. Woods did not knowingly break the rules, he merely made a mistake. It was an error that arguably should have seen him leave the grounds on Saturday morning.

When quizzed about the decision to allow Woods to continue in the tournament, Ridley said:

"Disqualification was not even on the table.”

Many said Tiger should have disqualified himself. When asked if he should still be in the final two rounds, Woods said:

“Absolutely. I made a mistake. Under the rules of golf, I took an improper drop and got a penalty."

Others disagreed. England’s David Lynn said if he’d made the same mistake he’d have been disqualified, and would have been on his way back to his Manchester home that Saturday.

Many pointed to the Mark Roe/Jesper Parnevik incident 10 years earlier in the Open Championship at Royal St George’s, when they failed to swap scorecards before the third round. Both were disqualified despite the fact scoring officials should have noticed there was a problem with the cards.

An official scorer walked with Roe and Parnevik that day and noted every score both made on all 18 holes. If ever there was a case for equity coming into play then Open Championship Saturday in 2003 was it. There was no leeway: players are responsible for the hole scores on their cards and both had to go. Rule 6-6d held firm.

So why didn’t it do so in 2013?

Was Lynn correct: that most other players in the field would have been sent packing? After all, Guan Tianlang wasn’t granted the same largesse as Woods when the 14 year old was penalised for slow play earlier in round two. Separate issues yes but, as many pointed out, Tianlang wasn’t the only player that Friday guilty of an offence endemic in the game. Why was Tianlang singled out when Woods was given the benefit of the doubt?

Commercial reasons? Was having Woods play Saturday and Sunday and the level of interest from a global audience and television ratings he generates part of the decision making process for Ridley and the other green jackets that Saturday morning?

Is it the worst ruling in golf history? What do you think?

#JustSaying: “There is no surer or more painful way to learn a rule than to be penalised once for breaking it.” Tom Watson

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Tony Francis



Disagree “worst” ruling. Agree “wrong” ruling by Committee, and wrong subsequent decision by Woods not to WD.

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