Tiger Woods heads into today’s final round of the Masters Tournament four shots off the lead after being assessed a two-shot penalty for taking an improper drop during the second round.
Woods, a four-time Masters winner who is seeking to end an eight-year title drought at the event, is 3-under for the tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, where Brandt Snedeker and 2009 champion Angel Cabrera share the lead.
Woods has never come from behind in the final round to win any of his previous 14 Grand Slam titles. His last major victory came at the 2008 U.S. Open, leaving him four wins shy of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 titles.
“I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods told reporters after the round in Augusta, Georgia. “I’m four back with a great shot to win this championship.”
Woods, 37, had five birdies and three bogeys yesterday, including three birdies over the final seven holes. Because of the two-shot penalty, he started the day five shots off the lead after being three back at the end of the second round.
He missed a chance to pull within three of the leaders at the par-5 eighth, where his 3-foot birdie attempt caught the lip of the cup, went more than all the way around and stayed out.
“I missed a couple short ones out there,” he said. “I’ve never seen a horseshoe like that on 8.”
He added birdies at the 12th and 13th before missing a 10-foot eagle putt at No. 15, the hole where his infraction took place a day earlier.
Before beginning play, Woods was summoned to the course for a meeting with Fred Ridley, the competition committee chairman, to discuss the second-round rules issue.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Woods said. “I made a mistake. Under the rules of golf, I took an improper drop and took the penalty. Once I came to the golf course I was ready to play.”
Woods said it was fair that he wasn’t disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. The rules committee reviewed the incident and made its initial determination prior to the finish of Woods’s second round, Ridley said in a press conference yesterday.
When the infraction happened, Woods had been in a four-way tie for the lead. His third shot at the par-5 15th hole hit the flag stick and ricocheted backward into the pond in front of the green.
He had three options at that point -- to play from the designated drop area; drop the ball while keeping the point where it last crossed the margin of the water between the hole and the spot where it was originally hit; or take a drop as near as possible to the original spot.
Woods took the third option and video footage showed he took a drop for his next shot -- his fifth after being assessed a one-stroke penalty for going in the water hazard -- about two yards behind the divot from his original shot.
“I was unaware at that time I had violated any rules,” Woods said on Twitter.
The question was whether the drop that Woods took was as near to the original spot as possible and whether he’d intentionally gained an advantage.
“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,” Woods said after his second round.
Woods hit that shot to within four feet of the flag and made the putt for bogey, which he said could have been a birdie without the bad bounce off the flag stick. If he had made birdie and avoided the two-shot penalty, Woods would be tied for the lead heading into the final day.
“He used that two yards to gain an advantage by breaking a rule,” said former U.S. PGA Tour player and Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, who called for Woods to withdraw from the season’s first major championship. “And he knows it.”
Masters officials said the rules committee reviewed video of the shot after being prompted by a television viewer while Woods was playing the 18th hole.
“At that moment and based on that evidence, the committee determined he had complied with the rules,” Ridley said in the statement.
In 2011, golf’s governing bodies announced a new interpretation of the rules that applies in “limited circumstances” where disqualifications are caused by scorecard errors identified as the result of recent advances in video technologies. That revision may have helped Woods avoid disqualification.
“The rule is great,” defending champion Bubba Watson said after completing his third round. “It should protect us. The people here at Augusta, at the Masters are not going to make a bad decision. So whatever their decision is, is what we’re going to stick with.”
The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club, golf’s two governing bodies, said the revision addressed the situation where a player is not aware he breached a rule “because of facts that he did not know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his scorecard.” At the discretion of the tournament committee, the player still receives the penalty associated with the breach of the underlying rule, but isn’t disqualified.
The revised decision from the USGA and R&A in 2011 said the disqualification penalty would still apply for scorecard breaches that arise from ignorance of the rules of golf.
Woods in January was assessed a two-stroke penalty for an illegal drop that forced him to miss the cut for weekend play at the European Tour’s HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi.