GOLF'S governing bodies have confirmed that US Masters officials were right not to disqualify Tiger Woods for signing for an incorrect score at Augusta National, but the Masters ruling on Woods should not serve as a precedent, as ignorance of the rules will not be deemed an excuse.
In a statement released yesterday, the USGA and R&A said Woods got the ruling he got because the Masters committee made a mistake and then used its discretion, which it has a right to do, to correct the mistake.
During the second round three weeks ago, Woods played his third shot from the fairway at No 15, but his ball clattered into the pin and deflected into Rae's Creek in front of the green.
He elected to take stroke-and-distance relief under Rule 26-1a, incurring a one-stroke penalty (his fourth stroke on the hole).
He then dropped and knocked his fifth shot to within a couple of feet and then tapped in for a bogey. When he completed his round, he signed for a six on 15.
Before the end of the round, however, Masters officials said they received a call questioning whether Woods had dropped his ball properly. After reviewing the video – but not talking to Woods – the Masters Tournament Committee ruled that he had complied with 26-1a.
But, after a TV interview Woods gave, when he discussed dropping the ball two yards from the previous spot – not "as nearly as possible," as the rule states – the committee changed its mind. Woods was called in to review video the next morning and a two-shot penalty was incurred.
That also meant Woods had signed an incorrect scorecard, which is supposed to mean disqualification. But, under Rule 33-7, a committee has discretion to waive that penalty in "exceptional individual cases."
And that is what the Masters did. In an 1,867-word statement on the issue, the R&A and USGA stated that: "Given the unusual combination of facts – as well as the fact nothing in the existing Rules or Decisions (on the Rules of Golf) specifically addressed such circumstances of simultaneous competitor error and Committee error – the Committee reasonably exercised its discretion under Rule 33-7 to waive the penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d, while still penalising Woods two strokes under Rules 26-1a and 20-7c for playing from a wrong place."
Despite concluding the committee were right not to disqualify Woods, the R&A and USGA also stressed the incident should not lessen the obligation on players to understand the rules and sign for a correct score.
The statement added: "The Woods ruling was based on exceptional facts, as required by Rule 33-7, and should not be viewed as a general precedent for relaxing or ignoring a competitor's essential obligation under the Rules to return a correct score card.
The statement also clarifies that rule 33-7/4.5 was not a factor as had been originally thought in some quarters. It added: "The decision ... was not and could not have been based on Decision 33-7/4.5 ... That extremely narrow exception, which relates generally to use of high-definition or slow-motion video to identify facts not reasonably visible to the naked eye, was not applicable here and had no bearing on the Committee's decision."
The so-called 'Harrington Rule' was brought in after Pádraig Harrington was disqualified from an event in Abu Dhabi in January 2011.
He had already signed his scorecard when a television viewer raised the issue of his ball moving as he marked it on a green.