Official: Earlier decision why Woods avoided DQ

Tiger Woods during the third round of the 2013 Masters.

Tiger Woods during the third round of the 2013 Masters.

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4/10/2014 - 4/13/2014

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— Here’s why Tiger Woods was not disqualified from the Masters: the Augusta National Competitions Committee had decided before he signed his scorecard that Woods shouldn’t be penalized for his drop at the 15th hole. The club's initial decision is what spared Woods.

“It would have been grossly unfair to disqualify him after our committee had made a decision,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of the committee. The committee conducted the investigation after a television viewer called the club to question Woods' drop.

The committee reviewed it while Woods was completing his second round, ruling that he had taken a valid drop “as near as possible” to the position of his last shot. The committee didn’t inform Woods of the investigation because no penalty was assessed, Ridley said.

Woods’ post-round comments, during which he said he dropped “two yards” from the spot of his last shot, were the additional evidence that convinced the committee that Woods' drop at 15 was improper. Augusta National decided Saturday morning to add two shots to Woods' score, while many called for Woods to be disqualified for signing for a lower score, one that did not reflect the later penalty. Woods tweeted, “I understand and accept the penalty and respect the Committees’ decision.”

There were plenty who did not. PGA Tour players, media and fans (even rapper Lil’ Wayne) took to Twitter to debate Woods’ fate, which was not decided upon until after the third round had begun. The debate overshadowed early play in the Masters’ third round. The ruling's timing – less than 24 hours after Tianlang Guan’s controversial slow-play penalty that nearly cost him his weekend tee times – shone a spotlight on the rules and their often harsh consequences.

Ridley felt that because the committee had earlier exonerated Woods, it would be unfair to disqualify him. Why? Because he signed the card as an innocent man in the committee's eyes. "Although (Tiger) didn't know that decision, he was entitled to have the benefit of that decision when he signed his scorecard," Ridley said. If they had found him guilty, they would have informed him of the penalty before he signed his card. He wasn't found guilty until after his card had been turned in, though. Augusta National officials never spoke to Woods about the potential infraction before he signed his card.

Ridley was informed of the potential infraction at 10 p.m. Friday evening. The committee met with Woods at 8 a.m. Saturday. That’s when Woods was penalized. “Based on his very forthright and honest answers to the questions that I had, I told Tiger ... that we felt that he had violated Rule 26 (relief for ball in water hazard) under the Rules of Golf and that he was going to be penalized,” Ridley said. “I also told him that because we ... made the determination the previous day after reviewing the ESPN video ... of his round, ... that there was ample reason not to impose the penalty of disqualification but to waive that penalty and impose a two-shot penalty." This controversy could have been averted if Augusta National officials had spoken to Woods before he signed his scorecard.

“Let’s face it, committees make mistakes from time to time, and players are entitled to rely on what a committee does,” Ridley said.

Woods was spared disqualification under Rule 33-7, which was introduced in 2011. This was arguably the highest-profile application of the rule, which states, “A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.”

Ridley said golf’s governing bodies concurred with the committee’s decision. This incident sets a precedent for a way Rule 33-7 can be used. Ridley was aware of that. “I’m pleased that the governing bodies are in agreement with our decision,” Ridley said. “Does it set a precedent? I hope it sets good precedent because it is a good decision.”

When asked if he regretted not speaking to Woods before he signed his card, Ridley said, “There’s not a day that goes by that there are not some things I wish I would have done differently.”

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