In one of the most bizarre rules snafus since Roberto De Vicenzo miscalculated himself into Masters lore, Woods was issued a two-stroke penalty and given metaphorical free relief all before the leaders reached the first tee on Saturday.
Woods, who was penalized for taking an incorrect drop after ricocheting his approach at the par-5 15th hole into the water, began his day with the rules committee at 8 a.m. ET. Nearly six hours later, he teed off despite having signed for an incorrect score thanks to a caveat in the rules.
If, as Nike Golf reasoned after Woods won last month at Bay Hill and regained the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, “winning takes care of everything,” Augusta National proved equally adept as a conversation changer thanks to a collection of classic contenders.
Brandt Snedeker, the hottest player on the planet before the PGA Tour moved east and he was slowed by a muscle injury, and Angel Cabrera, who has also been no stranger to injuries and inconsistent play in recent years, enter the most famous final round in golf tied for the lead at 7 under.
Both have been in similar situations before – Snedeker in 2008 when he went off in Sunday’s final group, closed with a 77 and tied for third; and Cabrera, who was tied for second – and in the final pairing – going into the last lap in 2011, but faded with a 71.
In fact, for those with a sense of history, if not a rooting interest, Sunday is shaping up to be historic for Australia. The Aussie duck – duck being a cricket term meaning zero, which is how many green jackets have been won by a player from Oz – may finally, and mercifully, be lifted.
Not since the days of Greg Norman has Australia had numbers like this. Scott, one back after a third-round 69, is alone in third followed by Day, who held a share of the lead for much of the day before finishing with consecutive bogeys and falling to 5 under along with fellow countryman Marc Leishman.
“We were talking about it this morning,” said Day’s caddie/swing coach Col Swatton. “Obviously, Aussies feel a little more pressure, but there always has to be a first time.”
For Cabrera it would be a surprising second time. In 2012, the ’09 Masters champion missed as many cuts (nine) as he made and didn’t post a single top-10 finish. He seemed to turn things around late last year, winning the Argentine Open in December, but had shown little form in the U.S. this season.
That was until this week.
“Last June he knew he wasn’t doing things the right way,” said Charlie Epps, the Argentine’s swing coach. “It’s all mental. Sometimes you get in ruts, life is hard and it’s not fun, but he did what he had to do and he did it well.”
Those odds would suggest the green jacket is headed back to the Southern Hemisphere – or maybe just the South.
Snedeker ramped up for this week’s event just downstate at Sea Island (Ga.) Resort and has played the Georgia gem, either as a competitor or guest, hundreds of times. That he is also one of the game’s top putters is also worth style points in these parts.
“I spent 32 years getting ready for tomorrow,” said Snedeker, who was nearly flawless in his Saturday 69.
Through the first month of the season he was almost as perfect, finishing third, second, second and first in four of his first five events. But after his victory at Pebble Beach he went on the DL with a strained intercostal muscle and missed consecutive cuts when he returned.
That the highlight of his Masters career is his Sunday swoon in 2008 promises to also be a talking point, but five years removed from that emotional Sunday the five-time Tour winner and reigning FedEx Cup champion didn’t sound like a man haunted by Masters memories.
“I had no clue what I was doing in 2008. No idea,” Snedeker said. “I have a complete and clear focus of what I need to do tomorrow.”
So does Woods, although he hasn’t done it in eight years.
They say the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday. For Woods it almost ended just past Amen Corner on Friday.
Officials initially deemed Woods’ drop on No. 15 during the second round within the rules. It wasn’t until he signed his scorecard and spoke with the media that they realized he’d dropped a few feet from where he took the original shot, which is a violation.
When the dust and speculation settled, Woods received a two-stroke penalty and the Masters took a mulligan, using Rule 33-7 to keep Woods from being disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
“(The rule) is to protect the player when the committee changes its mind,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of the tournament’s rules committee. “The committee makes mistakes some times. I think he’s entitled to protection.”
Woods made the most of the ruling, carding a 2-under 70 that included birdies at Nos. 12, 13 and 15. For the fifth time in the last seven years since he collected green jacket No. 4, Woods begins the final day within the top 10. Or, put another way, he’s exactly where he wants to be.
“As we all know, if you are within six shots on the back nine on Sunday you’ve got a chance,” said Woods, who has won all 14 of his majors with at least a share of the lead going into the last 18 holes. “I’m right there with a good shot to win the tournament.”
And it seems that after a brief detour early Saturday, Augusta National is right on schedule.