May
4
2012
Tiger’s strange day: the curious case of the lost/stolen ball
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Free drop

I don’t even know where to begin and I know I am relatively new on the golf beat (second full season, third year), but the curious case of Tiger Woods’ “lost” or “stolen” ball on the 5th hole in the second round of the Wells Fargo Championship was the weirdest thing I’ve seen out here by far. The entire day was unusual, but it’s not often a player’s ball disappears into thin air, especially when it’ has “TW” and a Nike logo branded on it and hundreds of spectators in the vicinity.

 

What’s more, Woods, who has only missed seven cuts in his career, will most certainly be home in time for dinner tonight. The fourteen-time major champ shot rounds of 71-73 at Quail Hollow Club, where he last won in 2007. Not only will he have the weekend off for only the 8th time, it will be the first venue where he’s failed to advance past 36 holes.

With the cloud covering in the humid conditions, the course was for the taking. Woods set the tone right with a bombed drive down the 10th fairway, his first hole of the day. He failed to capitalize and jabbed a three-footer to three-putt from the fringe. He bounced back on the 11th. After knocking it to three feet, he made the birdie putt. Then he posted back-to-back bogeys, failing to get up-and-down on the 12th after a terrible iron shot and then three-putting from about 40 feet on the 13th.

Tiger’s ballstriking wasn’t horrible. He hit his driver decently on Friday, but his long irons were awful and his putting arguably worse.

Geoff Ogilvy, who was paired with Tiger for the first two rounds, along with Webb Simpson, felt that Tiger was actually playing well and would have been five- or-six-under had he putted “just OK.”

“He hit four or five pretty loose shots off the tee and that one at five but if he holed putts, he’d be in contention,” said Ogilvy, who also couldn’t get the ball to drop. “Well, he wouldn’t be out of the tournament if he made putts.

“I think he’s actually hitting it pretty good. That sounds ridiculous. He hit a lot of really good drivers. Unbelievable drive down 10 to start the day. I think he’s doing a lot of good stuff. If he tells you he’s close, I think he’s actually right.”

Said TIger: “The entire week I didn’t play the par‑5s well,” said Tiger after his round. “Today I made four pars.  You just can’t do that, especially when all of them are reachable with irons.  I didn’t take care of the par‑5s, missed a couple other little short ones for birdie, and consequently got no momentum during the round.”

***

Speaking of par-5s, the 5th hole is one of the four at Quail Hollow, which are all reachable in two. I caught up with his group on the third hole. After he striped a drive on the fifth down the right side, setting himself up for a good angle into the green, I thought, alright, this is it, he has an iron in his hands — knock it close in two and two-putt for birdie at worse to jump-start the momentum.

Instead, Tiger sniped a long iron WAY left into the woods. He dropped the club and turned away in disgust. One bewildered fan murmured, “How do you hit it that far left?!?”

I was walking in pace with Tiger, while Ogilvy and Simpson had walked up the right side of the fairway about 30 or so yards. By the time we reached the trees 60 yards left of the green, fans were scattered everywhere, instead of hundreds of fans encircled around Tiger’s ball, with marshals yelling at everyone to move back.

Seriously, how was it possible that no one knew where he ball was?! The Great Search commenced and we covered a massive area in the trees looking for it. There were hundreds of people scattered across a 50-yard radius. It was pure chaos. I was wandering around kind of looking, but I was still trying to process how it hadn’t already been located. Hm, it’d been a while. I think past the five-minute mark.

That was when Ogilvy and Webb, who had been waiting on the green because they assumed marshals were herding the horde of people and get them out of the way, realized something wasn’t right and walked into the commotion.

“It was news to us that he had lost the ball,” said Ogilvy. “You can never imagine nobody saw the ball hit the ground. If it hit those trees, it would have been in a ten-yard circle of where he ended up dropping it, so from my position, I was blown away he never found it. It’s a strange one, but there wouldn’t be many people who wouldn’t think it wasn’t right. 99% of the time that ball has been picked up by someone, but I guess there’s that one in a million chance it’s under the pine straw, it’s hiding, or stays up the tree.”

Ogilvy saw Tiger pull the ball — “it was like, wow, he pulled it a hole away — and hit a tree before it started dropping behind another tree when he lost track of it.

Commotion and confusion continued to ensue. I was thinking, uh oh, it’s lost and Tiger is going to have to return to the original spot in the fairway and re-hit, which would cost him two strokes.

Tiger had walked back a ways and as he approached the area where they thought it landed, he asked the crowd, “Did anyone hear it hit the tree?”

The crowd replied with a chorus of “yeses.”

They pointed toward where Tiger eventually took his free drop. By this point, rules official Mark Russell had arrived to intervene. Nearly ten minutes — if not more — had already passed (the time limit to search for a ball is usually capped at five minutes and after that, the ball is supposed to be considered lost). People in the throng kept randomly chiming in with their two cents every now and again.

“I heard it come through here!” and “It hit this tree!”

A ball was found (seen in this picture) buried in the pine straw, but it wasn’t Tiger’s. He tossed it over to a fan who gleefully caught it.

Finally, the crowd gathered around Tiger, Russell and an older gentleman in a pale yellow shirt, who said he saw the ball fall out of the trees, roll down the pine straw to a flat collection area with a perfect opening to the green.

He repeated his story a few times and Russell asked the crowd if anyone else had seen the ball. Suddenly, “heroes” throughout the swarm said, “Yeah, I did!” It was like a domino effect. Um, am I in the twilight zone? I mean, seriously?

But no one saw anyone pick up the ball. I just can’t imagine a situation where a group of people conspired to steal Tiger’s ball and get away with it.

“Very unusual situation. I was just operating on the evidence that we had and the area that we were in,” Russell told reporters. “If we were in a situation over there where there were a lot of bushes where the ball could easily be lost, it would be a totally different situation. It’s like it being lost on this floor right here.”

Exactly. Just bizarre.

“A gentleman saw the ball land and roll, and another gentleman verified he saw the same thing,” Woods said. “There were about five or six people that ran over to the ball, and the next thing you know we get down there and there’s hundreds of people and no ball. You saw an area there, there’s really nothing there. We looked around for a while, and then Mark came over there and analyzed the situation and what was going on. We gave him all the information. The two gentlemen participated in the conversation, and we dropped it as close as we could to where they thought it was picked up.

“So that was it.”

***

Thomas Crosby, a fan, was one of the corroborating witnesses.

“The ball came through the trees, it came down right here,” he told me and two other reporters, gesturing to where Tiger received a free drop. “When it hit, twelve people came through here and just when I got to it, they went off that way (pointing toward 1st fairway on other side of woods, parallel to the 5th fairway) in a group in a hurry.

“I saw it when (Tiger’s ball) hit and bounced just like that. By the time I got up to this area, but they came through this area right here (pointing to area where Tiger dropped) and went through with the ball out that way — it had to be.”

I guess we take his word. It’s hard for me to believe a pack of precisely “12” conspired to run away with the ball, yet none of the hundreds of people in the gallery saw or stopped the theft. But we have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Meanwhile, after the ruling, a colleague witnessed a fan approach Russell and tell him adamantly that he never saw the ball and he was standing in the same place. Others stepped up and said the same, but apparently no one would listen. I only heard people speaking up in “favor” of Tiger.

Everyone wants to be his “hero,” after all!

Tiger dropped a ball to what was determined as the closest point to where his original (allegedly) stolen one had come to rest. He punched out from the pine straw onto the green to 27 feet for birdie and two-putted for a 5.

What a par!

***

On the other par-5 on the front nine No. 7, Tiger drove it in the rough and laid up. He hit a wedge either really horribly or heavy and it came up short, landing on the collar of the green that’s guarded by a hazard. It took one bounce backwards and stopped on the rock ledge. Nice break.

With the toe of his putter, Tiger hit the ball onto the putting surface and rolled in a 20-footer to save par.

Another great 5.

He jabbed a four-footer for birdie on No. 8 to squash his hopes of making the cut.

His playing partners were both standing off the green, near the walkway to No. 9, about 15-20 yards away. One said to the other, “Now he’s just trying too hard.”

What I believe he meant was that Tiger was trying to force the issue (or the ball).

Woods posted a ho-hum nine straight pars on his second nine. He’s currently T74. Everyone was sure he’d missed the cut, but in the last hour, the media center has gone into panic mode with the field moving backward. There’s a slim possibility of four players gagging, which would push the top-70 to players who posted 36-hole totals of even par or better, including Tiger.

Now then the lost/stolen ball issue would really turn into a controversy, but I can’t see that happening at this late hour. Who knows, though — it’s been a freaky Friday!

*Update: Tiger did indeed miss the cut by one shot, and just to be clear, it’s not fair to say he “cheated” on No. 5. He didn’t do anything wrong. Fans claimed they saw the ball and you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. There was no way to prove that someone didn’t pick it up. Innocent until proven guilty. Whether any other player, say Ogilvy or Webb, would have gotten that same ruling, well, that’s questionable.

Meanwhile, Ryan Moore was penalized a stroke on the 11th green when he went to tap in a two-footer and the ball moved. Apparently it was a “bad” ruling. When I contacted his player-manager, he was still too mad to talk about it…