Tiger Woods’ drop on the 15th might be grounds for disqualification (*Update)
By Stephanie Wei under Rules


Tiger Woods reacts after his approach from the fairway on the 15th hits the pin and rolls back into the water hazard. Ouch.

Tiger Woods reacts after his approach from the fairway on the 15th hits the pin and rolls back into the water hazard. Ouch.

 *Update: Read the *update at the bottom of the post.

During the second round of The Masters, Tiger Woods, who is in contention heading into the weekend at Augusta National, caught an unfortunate break on the 15th hole when his approach into the green hit the pin, causing it to roll back into the water hazard. Brutal.

Turns out Woods’ troubles didn’t end there: He may have taken a bad drop. Masters officials are expected to review the incident Saturday morning, and IF it is ruled that Woods did indeed take a drop from the wrong spot, then he could be disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. 

Relax, guys — I doubt that’s going to happen because it’s kind of subjective (and it’s Tiger Woods that we’re talking about here, not a 14-year-old amateur).

Oh, why would he get DQ’d? If he took an improper drop, then he should have been assessed a penalty on the 15th hole, so he would have signed an incorrect scorecard.

But here’s the issue with Woods’ drop: In his post-round interview with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, Tiger was asked about how hard it was to hit that second ball after his first went into the water. Looks like he may have incriminated himself a bit, depending on your interpretation of Rule 26-1(a).

“Well, I went down to the drop area, that wasn’t going to be a good spot, because obviously it’s into the grain, it’s really grainy there.  And it was a little bit wet.  So 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 and I took, tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit.
And that should land me short of the flag and not have it either hit the flag or skip over the back.  I felt that that was going to be the right decision to take off four right there.  And I did.  It worked out perfectly.”

The important part in all that is he said he went two yards further back. Per the Rules of Golf, 26-1, the rule pertaining to the situation, states:

If a ball is found in a water hazard or if it is known or virtually certain that a ball that has not been found is in the water hazard (whether the ball lies in water or not), the player may under penalty of one stroke:

a. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or

b. Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped

Tiger had the choice between (a) or (b), along with one option that isn’t outlined above, which was taking a drop from the designated drop area — as Tiger said, he didn’t like the lie.

Woods opted for (a) because he said in his post-round interviews that he went back to where he played it from originally. Had he taken option (b), he would have dropped left of where he was because if you watch the replay, you’ll see that would have been the line between where the ball LAST crossed the hazard and the hole.

So you see, Tiger may have taken an improper drop if he went two yards further than the original spot because well, any seasoned competitive golfer knows that “two yards” isn’t as “nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played.”

You can check out the replay of where Tiger plays both shots (around the 1:30 mark) over at ESPN. Now, I’ve watched the video a few times and it looks like he was closer than two yards back of the original spot, so I’d think he’d be in the clear, but I can’t say for sure. *Update: Just saw this photo Geoff Shackelford posted of Tiger and it’s clear he’s definitely too far back. Clear violation. Uh oh, this is bad, like really, really bad. 


Taking a drop from a water hazard is a very, very basic rule of golf. It is engrained in junior golfers. It’s drilled in you from an early age, but the Rules of Golf can get confusing because they’re so intricate, especially in the heat of the moment. (At least in Washington Junior Golf and the AJGA from my personal experiences — we knew the rule on taking drops from water and lateral water hazards better than just about any other rule.)

This incident wouldn’t be Woods’ first rules violation of the year — though this would definitely be way most costly. Earlier this year at his 2013 opener, the Abu Dhabi Championship, he received a two-shot penalty for taking an improper drop for a completely different scenario. (Ugh, sometimes golf and all the rules can be extremely brutal and the penalty even harsher.)

Maybe Tiger misspoke when he said “two yards further back”? I don’t know. Maybe Augusta National considers “two yards father back” to be within what’s acceptable of where the “original ball was last played.” It’s a bit subjective.

Like I said, from the replay, if I’m seeing what I think looks like a divot from Tiger’s first shot, then it appears he’s closer than “two yards” to me, but it’s hard to tell from the angle of the camera, which messes with your depth perception.

We’ll have to wait and hear from Woods and see how the esteemed Masters rules committee interprets the whole fiasco. Stay tuned. Drama, drama, drama!

Oh yeah, for more info from the pros, I recommend reading the Twitters of PGA Tour player Bob Estes and Tiger’s former swing coach Hank Haney.

Lastly, can you imagine the outrage if Woods is actually disqualified?? Not that I think it will happen because, well, do I really need to spell it out?? I will say this, though, Augusta National has the final say and they’ve let things slide in the past, like with Rory McIlroy and his tantrum in the bunker in 2009, or even better, in 2004, Ernie Els asked for a drop and got denied by two rules officials before chairman of the tournament committee, Will Nicholson, overruled them and granted Els the request.

In Tiger’s case, there’s some grey area, but veteran PGA Tour player Steve Flesch sums it up:


But hey, as Tiger said himself on Friday after his round, “Rules are rules.” when asked for his reaction on 14-year-old Tianlang Guan receiving a one-shot penalty for slow play.


*Update: Monday, 9:30am, Sorry, I forgot to post this bit earlier. Thanks to esteemed rules authority John Morrissett for emailing me this explanation of the Tiger ruling on Saturday.

I suppose I shouldn’t be, but I am amazed at the frenzy that seemingly the entire golf world has worked itself into over the ruling involving Tiger. The key is that, before Tiger returned his score card yesterday, the Committee had reviewed the incident on 15 and made the ruling of no breach. (Even though the Committee did not tell Tiger of this ruling, it was still a ruling.) On reflection, the Committee realized it made an incorrect ruling and corrected that ruling today (with ample authority and precedent to do so). Pretty simple.

If the Committee had not become aware of the incident and had not made a ruling before Tiger returned his score card yesterday, then it would be a straightforward disqualification.

Consider the ramifications if the Committee had disqualified Tiger today. In that case, Tiger would be justified in being furious at the Committee for failing to advise him of the issue yesterday before he returned his score card so that he could have avoided disqualification. Tiger made an error and is penalized two strokes; the Committee’s incorrect ruling should not result in further penalty.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)