In the morning air of Augusta National Golf Club, as fans walked toward the front of Gate 6, the whispers had already begun.
Was Tiger Woods going home early?
The answer, in the end, would be no, but that didn’t quiet a swelling controversy on the third day of the Masters.
Woods was assessed a 2-stroke penalty on Saturday morning after taking an illegal drop on the 15th hole during his round on Friday in the 77th Masters. The ruling, which was announced in a statement by the Masters’ competition committee, was initially brought to the club’s attention by a television viewer during Woods’ round on Friday.
Woods could have faced a disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard at the end of his round. But Fred Ridley, the chairman of the Masters competition committee announced “the penalty of disqualification was waived by the Committee under Rule 33 as the Committee had previously reviewed the information and made its initial determination prior to the finish of (Woods’) round.”
In short: After being prompted by the television viewer, the rules committee reviewed video of the drop while Woods was still on the 18th hole. Because they initially determined he had complied with the rules, they used Rule 33, which allows disqualifications to be waived in exceptional situations.
This certainly felt like that: In fact, the Masters only re-investigated the drop after Woods' post-round interview. Woods stated that "he dropped two yards further back," which would have been in violation of Rule 26-1.
"After he signed his scorecard," the Masters statement read, "and in a television interview subsequent to the round, the player stated that he played further from the point than when he had played his third shot. Such action would constitute playing from the wrong place."
Woods, who finished at 3-under par after Friday’s round, now sits at 1-under heading into his Saturday round. He is now 5 strokes behind leader Jason Day, who sits at 6-under, and he'll tee off as scheduled at 12:45 p.m.
The ruling drew praise from some tour pros, including Graeme McDowell, but television analyst and former Masters champ Nick Faldo called for Woods to withdraw.
"The mark this will leave on his career, his legacy, everything,” Faldo said during the Masters television coverage, before adding that Woods would be doing the “manly thing” by withdrawing.
On Friday, Woods' third shot on the 15th hole from 87 yards hit the pin and caromed off the green, down the slope and into the water. The bad bounced turned a possible birdie into a bogey. But instead of going to the drop area on the other side of the water, Woods chose to take the one-shot penalty and play his fifth shot from the area of his original shot.
At question was whether that violated Rule 26-1, which states that the ball should be dropped as nearly as possible to the spot where it was last played.
"I went back to where I played it from, but went two yards further back and I tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit," Woods said Friday after he signed for a 71, leaving him three shots out of the lead. "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 was going to be the right decision to take off four (yards) right there. And I did. It worked out perfectly."
Woods' fifth shot landed short of the hole and spun to a stop about 4 feet to the left of the flag. He made the putt for a bogey.
Woods began his year with a rules situation in Abu Dhabi. He took relief from an embedded lie in a sandy area covered in grass. He was entitled to a free drop except in sand, and Woods was given a two-shot penalty. He was alerted of this before he signed his card, and the two-shot penalty caused him to miss the cut.
Woods, the No. 1 player in the world, was the favorite coming into the Masters to end five years without winning a major. He has not won the Masters since 2005.The Associated Press contributed this report.