Tiger Woods’ appearance in the 2013 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship didn’t last long because of his ignorance of the former rule about embedded balls.
Woods played the first two rounds with Rory McIlory and three-time Abu Dhabi champion Martin Kaymer. Woods was fighting to make the cut in round two. He may have done if not for his actions on the fifth hole.
The then 14-time major champion hit his tee shot wide of the fairway into a sandy, scrubby area. I was working for Golfweek and was surprised when Woods called over Kaymer, who was marking his card. After a brief discussion, Woods took a drop and hit his approach shot onto the green.
I was surprised to be told it was a free drop. I asked former European Tour player turned TV commentator Richard Boxall why Woods received a free drop. Boxall said it was because his ball was embedded.
The European Tour allowed relief for embedded balls anywhere through the green. I knew there was an exception for balls embedded in sandy areas.
Tiger’s ball came to rest on creeping vegetation in a sandy waste area. Myself and Golf Channel correspondent Rex Hoggard asked European Tour referee Miguel Vidor about the ruling. He confirmed it was for an embedded ball. I wasn’t fully satisfied and queried Vidor further.
Vidor asked me to take him to the spot Woods had hit from, which I did. Vidor said there was no problem with Woods’ action since he hadn’t dropped the ball in sand. I said: ‘even though this vegetation is in a sandy waste area?” Vidor still maintained Woods had done nothing wrong.
I left the scene with my mind at rest, only to find out later that Vidor had second thoughts. He consulted chief referee Andy McFee who agreed with my interpretation of the rule. Woods was assessed a two-shot penalty and missed the cut.
I was only doing my job in seeking an explanation – I’m a journalist: it’s my job to ask questions. Many Tiger fans didn’t see it that way. I was subjected to a torrent of abuse via Twitter. Many accused me of causing Woods to miss the cut. I didn’t. Tiger’s ignorance of the rules was the reason he missed the cut.
Woods would suffer the same penalty nowadays under the new rules of golf effective 1 January 2019.
Rule 16-3 Embedded Ball does not allow relief for a ball “embedded in sand in part of a general area that is not cut to fairway height or less.”