AUGUSTA, Ga. – This isn’t exactly the way you want to start your Masters Saturday.
They call the third round “Moving Day,” and Tiger Woods learned before he even showed up to hit his first tee shot that he was moving backwards, that he was being slapped with a two-shot penalty for an improper drop at the 15th hole in Friday’s third round.
Woods learned in a morning telephone call from Masters competition committee chairman Fred Ridley that there was some good news with the bad news. Ridley asked Woods to come to the club to talk about his rules violation before his round. The good news was that the committee was engaging Rule 33-7 and waiving the disqualification Woods faced for signing an incorrect scorecard.
Word of the ruling quickly ignited a firestorm of debate with some well respected names criticizing the decision and saying they would have withdrawn.
Greg Norman tweeted as much; David Duval, too.
On the Golf Channel set, Brandel Chamblee, Brad Faxon, Olin Browne and even Woods’ friend, John Cook, said they believed the rules violation deserved disqualification.
That’s how Woods started the third round, with a punch in the gut.
It could have been worse, though. It could have been a knockout blow.
Instead of beginning Saturday three shots back, Woods started five back, but he was still in the tournament.
Woods didn’t waste time sending a message that he intended to take advantage. He striped his first drive down the middle and stiffed his approach shot to 3 feet. He made a birdie that defiantly cut through the fog of negative momentum rolling in against him.
Though Woods had some struggles with his putter in the middle of his round, he fought to give himself a chance to win Sunday.
With a 2-under-par 70, Woods sits tied for seventh, four shots behind the leaders, Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera.
All in all, Woods managed nicely swimming upstream.
“It started off, obviously, different, but I'm right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “As of right now, I'm four back with a great shot to win this championship.”
Woods is looking to win his first Masters in eight years, his first major championship of any kind in five.
If Woods is going to get himself back on track to equal or pass Jack Nicklaus’ major championship record, he will have to do so winning his first major coming from behind. He has won all 14 with at least a share of the lead.
Also, he will have to overcome a fairly strong Masters tradition. He’ll have to overcome the fact that 19 of the last 22 Masters winners have come from the final Sunday pairing.
And if he does win, he will become the first Masters champion to win with an 8 on one of his scorecards. That’s the nasty score Woods received at the 15th hole Friday after being penalized for making an improper drop, a penalty that set off a debate over whether the rules committee failed to protect the field in protecting Woods by waiving disqualification.
Woods was asked what he thought of complaints that he ought to withdraw.
“Under the Rules of Golf, I can play,” Woods said. “I was able to go out there and compete and play. Evidently, this is the Harrington rule, I guess. If it was done a year or two ago, whatever, I wouldn't have the opportunity to play. But the rules have changed, and under the Rules of Golf I was able to play.”
And Woods is playing to win. He made five birdies in a round that felt like it could have been even better.
While Woods faced criticism for avoiding a DQ, he had support, too.
“I think they got it right,” Steve Stricker said.
Former Masters champ Sandy Lyle didn’t like calls for Woods to pull himself out of the event.
“I think that's probably a little harsh, disqualifying himself,” said Lyle, the 1988 winner. “We're only players, we don't know the rules 100 percent and there (are) people out here that do know the rules. It's up to the governing bodies to decide.”
After Woods’ terrific start, he made two bogeys on the front nine to go with one other birdie. He missed a 3-footer that wickedly horseshoed out at the ninth.
On the back nine, Woods coaxed in a delicate 5-footer for par at the 10th but missed another 5-footer at the 11th to fall six shots off the lead.
“I missed a few putts here and there, could’ve converted the par 5s better,” Woods said.
Woods made a move on the back nine, with back-to-back birdies at the 12th and 13th holes, making things interesting when he returned to the 15th hole, the scene of his controversial drop a day earlier. The hole wouldn’t be his undoing again. He striped a drive and then stuck his approach 10 feet below the hole for a terrific eagle chance.
Suddenly, with leader, Angel Cabrera making bogey at the 12th behind him, Woods had a chance to create a three-shot swing and move within two of the lead.
Alas, his eagle putt missed, but his third birdie in four holes moved him thickly back into contention.
His back nine gives him what he wants, a chance to win on Sunday.