Former USGA rules official explains Woods ruling

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 17, 2013, 8:04 pm

(Editor's note: Kendra Graham, former USGA director of women's competitions, explains the ruling on Tiger Woods' illegal drop, and subsequent two-stroke penalty, Friday at the Masters.)

During the second round on Friday April 12, Tiger Woods hit his third shot onto the green at the par-5 15th hole. It struck the flagstick and bounced back into the pond in front of the green. This pond is defined as a water hazard with yellow painted lines. In this instance, the player had three options.


Rule 26-1 - The player may under penalty of one stroke

a. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or

b. Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped; or

A Dropping Zone (or Ball Drop) was also established by the Committee and was located short left of the pond. Appendix I to the Rules of Golf suggests establishing special areas on which balls may or must be dropped when it is not feasible or practicable to proceed exactly in conformity with Rule 26-1 (Water Hazards and Lateral Water Hazards). The Committee recognized that with certain hole locations on the 15th hole, dropping a ball in accordance with Rule 26-1b may not be possible, therefore, a Ball Drop is necessary. It is an underlying principle to the Rules of Golf that the player should not be limited to just the stroke-and-distance option when proceeding under Rule 26-1.

The reference point the player would have used in proceeding under Rule 26-1b would have been the point where the ball last crossed the water hazard, which in this case, would have been where it rolled into the pond after having struck the flagstick.

As was evidenced at the time, Tiger walked down to the pond and surveyed the Ball Drop and possibly where he might have dropped a ball in accordance with Rule 26-1b. He then returned to the area from which he had last played.


Rule 20-2b – Dropping and Re-Dropping; Where to Drop

When a ball is to be dropped as near as possible to a specific spot, it must be dropped not nearer the hole than the specific spot which, if it is not precisely known to the player, must be estimated.

In this instance, the specific spot was known since there was a divot from the previous stroke. (In many cases, there will not be a divot or other indicator as to the specific spot, underscoring the need for the language “as nearly as possible.”) Tiger dropped the ball and played it, scoring bogey 6 on the hole. Prior to completion of his round, the Committee received a phone call from a television viewer who believed Tiger may have played from a wrong place.


Rule 20-7, Playing from Wrong Place

c. Stroke Play – If a player makes a stroke from a wrong place, he incurs a penalty of two strokes under the applicable Rule. He must play out the hole with the ball played from the wrong place, without correcting his error, provided he has not committed a serious breach (see Note 1).

Note 1: A competitor is deemed to have committed a serious breach of the applicable Rule if the Committee considers he has gained a significant advantage as a result of playing from a wrong place.

In this case, the applicable Rule is 26 (the general penalty is listed at the end of the Rule). There is a penalty regardless of whether the player plays from a wrong place on purpose or by accident, knowingly or unknowingly. Intent has nothing to do with the outcome. A common breach of this Rule occurs when a competitor moves his ball-marker on the putting green because it interferes with his fellow-competitor’s play. If he forgets to move it back and plays from a wrong place, he incurs a two-stroke penalty under the applicable Rule (in that scenario, Rule 20-3a). Also important is the second part of Rule 20-7c. The error is NOT CORRECTED unless a SERIOUS BREACH has occurred, which to some players is counterintuitive. Suffice it to say that the additional two strokes take care of any small or insignificant advantage that may have been gained. The Rule goes on to explain what a player should do if he believes a serious breach has occurred. (Note 1 gives guidance regarding a serious breach.)


Tiger Woods

Prior to Tiger finishing his round and signing his scorecard, the Committee looked at the footage and consulted with officials who were on the hole while the drop occurred. They determined that the ball had been dropped “near enough” to where he had last played, and in their eyes there was no breach of Rule 20-7. They chose neither to discuss the incident with Tiger nor to keep him from signing his scorecard. But during his post-round huddle with the media, when asked about his fifth shot on the 15th hole, Tiger shared the following:

“Well, I went down to the drop area, that wasn't going to be a good spot, because obviously it's into the grain, it's really grainy there. And it was a little bit wet. So it was muddy and not a good spot to drop. So 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. 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 that was going to be the right decision to take off four right there. And I did. It worked out perfectly.”

When this information was brought to the Committee’s attention late Friday night, it changed their opinion about him dropping the ball “near enough” and their decision not to penalize him. This statement indicated that Tiger had not attempted to drop the ball “as nearly as possible” to the spot where he had last played. He stated he had purposely dropped the ball 2 yards behind that point, which ultimately meant he had played from a wrong place. Although Tiger did say he intended to drop his ball 2 yards behind the previous spot, it is important to note that this statement does not mean that the player intended to drop the ball in a wrong place and play it from there or to intentionally break a Rule. It merely clarified that he had not abided by Rule 26-1a by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played.

The Committee asked Tiger to meet with them Saturday, and after Tiger confirmed his statements from the previous day, the Committee concluded that he had played from a wrong place and that he must incur a penalty of two strokes. However, Rule 6-6d (Wrong Score for Hole) explains the competitor is responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole on his score card. If he returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, he is disqualified.

In many similar circumstances, a player would have been disqualified for a breach of Rule 6-6d. A player is not absolved from penalty under this Rule for failure to include a penalty that he did not know he had incurred. However, in this case, the Committee believed that they had done the player an injustice by not discussing the possible infraction of Rule 20-7 with him before he signed his scorecard and thus used Rule 33-7 to correct the situation.


Rule 33-7, Disqualification Penalty; Committee Discretion

A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.

Any penalty less than disqualification must not be waived or modified.

If the Committee had had Saturday’s conversation with Tiger on Friday before he signed his scorecard with Tiger providing the same information, he would have received a two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place (ultimately, the net result ended up being the same). It is important to keep in mind that the reason the Committee used their discretion and invoked Rule 33-7 was because they considered his infraction before he signed his scorecard and incorrectly determined it a non-event. The outcome would have been different had they not learned of his possible breach until after he had signed his scorecard. Had that been the case, Tiger would have been disqualified for a breach of Rule 6-6d and the Committee would not have used Rule 33-7.

Rule 33-7 is not new; it has been in the book, according to my research, since 1952. Rule 33 (The Committee) outlines all of the responsibilities of the Committee in charge of a competition and is one of the longest Rules in the book. Its counterpart is Rule 6 (The Player), which highlights all of the player’s responsibilities. There is a relatively new Decision 33-7/4.5 (went into effect in 2011 and was revised in 2012), which often was mentioned in connection with this ruling. It really had very little, if any, bearing on the decision made by this Committee. The wording of Rule 33-7 is quite broad and lets the Committee use their discretion in waiving, modifying or imposing a penalty of disqualification. (They do not have that right in regard to waiving or modifying a lesser penalty, e.g., one stroke, two strokes, loss of hole.)

Decisions are written to help interpret and further clarify the Rules of Golf. Decision 33-7/4.5 was written to give guidance to Committees on when to use Rule 33-7. It gives many different examples as to when the Committee would be justified in waiving a penalty of DQ and when the Committee would not be justified.

In this case, the Committee felt justified in using Rule 33-7 to waive the penalty of disqualification because they knew of the player’s possible breach before he signed his scorecard. They do not have to “fit” their reason into one of the scenarios listed in Decision 33-7/4.5. The most recognizable example in this new decision relates to a situation involving a player and HD television. The decision explains that the use of Rule 33-7 by the Committee in absolving a player of a DQ penalty involving a breach of a Rule that was only detectable by HD television would be justified.

The decision is not all encompassing. It is there to provide insight, but ultimately, the Committee makes the final decision.

In conclusion, it is important to keep in mind the words found in Rule 34-3, Committee’s Decision. In the absence of a referee, any dispute or doubtful point on the Rules must be referred to the Committee, whose decision is final.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.



It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.



Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.



Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.



Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.



After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.



Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.


Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters


Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.