Tiger's penalty elicits competitors' reactions

Tiger Woods during the first round of the 2013 Masters.

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— His involvement in the 77th Masters had ended late Friday afternoon – or so Padraig Harrington thought.

Turns out, in a bizarre sort of way, the Irishman’s name was bandied about before the start of Saturday’s third round, even if he did shoot 78-75 to miss the cut by miles.

Asked whether he had heard about the storyline that has taken this tournament by storm – the two-stroke penalty assessed to Tiger Woods, who was spared a disqualification in a hugely controversial decision – Harrington nodded his head.

Didn’t something involving Harrington sound similar, except that he was disqualified? He nodded. “Yeah, yeah. It was me. Abu Dhabi.”

In 2011, Harrington led the Abu Dhabi tournament after opening with a 65, but before Round 2 he was called in to review television clips of the previous day’s action. It seems that the finest HD cameras were able to determine that Harrington’s ball on the putting green moved toward the hole ever so slightly that the human eye couldn’t see it. Because he never replaced the ball, Harrington was deemed to have been in violation of the Rules of Golf.

He accepted his DQ with dignity, but when an outcry ensued – how can you penalize a guy for not being able to see that his ball moved? – rules officials massaged the rule to say that in further incidents like this, assess the penalty, but do not disqualify the player for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Call it the “Harrington Rule.”

It arrived too late to save Harrington in Abu Dhabi. When asked whether he had any thoughts on Woods being spared a similar fate despite the similarities to their cases, the Irishman shook his head no. It was the most bizarre of days at Augusta National on Friday – a one-stroke penalty for slow play costing 14-year-old Tianlang Guan and Woods’ bad drop igniting red-hot controversy – and Harrington was not venturing into the fray.

“I think all has been said that needs to be said,” he said. “It’s a case of interpretation, and you have the best rules officials from all over the world, you have the R&A and the USGA here.”

Now Woods was still teeing it up in Round 3 of the 77th Masters despite signing an incorrect scorecard (he made an 8 at the par-5 16th, not a 6; he shot 73, not 71), but it wasn’t because of the “Harrington Rule.” Instead, the Masters Tournament Committee cited Rule 33, which gives officials the discretion to waive the DQ.

In essence, Fred Ridley, chairman of the competition committee, said that when they received word that Woods might have played his fifth shot from an improper spot in the 15th fairway, the tape was reviewed and they thought that everything was OK.

“We did not talk to Tiger (after the round),” Ridley said.

Thus, Woods signed his scorecard, and the committee contends it can’t now disqualify him for doing so – even after overwhelming evidence has led them to assess a two-stroke penalty. Woods met with Ridley and other committee members Saturday morning, and it was determined that Woods played his next shot “2 yards” behind where he had originally hit a shot that hit the flagstick and caromed into the water.

Though Harrington didn’t want to get into any sort of dialogue, it’s difficult to see where people will have a problem with all of this. Harrington was disqualified when his ball moved ever so slightly, and yet Woods is allowed to keep playing when his ball clearly was several feet from where it should have been?

As he walked into the clubhouse to prepare for his third round, Ernie Els was asked whether he had heard the update. He said he knew something about Woods “taking a bad drop.” When told that a two-stroke penalty had been assessed, but no disqualification, Els stopped and asked how that was possible.

Then, he shook his head, tossed up his arms, and walked on.

Rickie Fowler arrived before his round and said he didn’t know the exact news update, but when asked where a player should drop after hitting it into the water, he didn’t hesitate. “Almost in your divot,” he said.

So clearly, it’s not an obscure rule, this drop you take when you hit it into water. You can drop at the drop area, the point of entry or from “as near as possible” to the point from which the previous stroke was played. Fowler knew it, and several other players confirmed that they knew, too. So why didn’t Woods? Why had he taken an improper drop, one that he all but conceded had given him an advantage over his previous spot?

“I think you’ll have to ask him,” Ridley said.

That opportunity might present itself, now that Masters officials have allowed him to keep playing.

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