As dawn breaks at Augusta National, the biggest story of Saturday at the Masters is already on the table as the debate rages over whether Tiger Woods should be disqualified for an illegal drop on No. 15 that would result in an incorrect scorecard. The issue popped up late Friday night, when some Twitter chatter started going around that Tiger took an illegal drop after his ball hit the flagstick at the 15th and caromed off into the water, one of the unluckiest breaks in Masters history. The discussion also came up in the late night CBS highlights show, and David Feherty, who's certainly not the biggest Tiger critic, indicated he thought it was an illegal drop as well.
The biggest issue at the moment is whether Tiger took his drop within proximity of the spot of his original shot that went into the water. Woods either had to drop his ball behind the water hazard on the direct line it last crossed into the hazard, or play from the spot where the original shot was made. Here are two options (from the USGA rulebook):
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;
Considering the ball banged off the flagstick and into the water, the line and angle he would have had to drop on was off to the left from the original spot, and he likely wasn't on that line required by the "b" provision.
As for the provision set out in "a", a quote from Tiger himself after the round may be his undoing. Woods narrated his thought process after the unlucky break, stated that he went back two yards from the spot of his original shot. Here's the pertinent part of his post-round remarks (via ASAP Sports)
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.
Tiger's statement that he went two yards back would seem to be outside the requirement that he play the shot "as nearly as possible" from the original spot.
Now, his statement and where the ball actually came to rest may not be the same. The replays on ESPN show that he is behind the original spot, but was it close enough (and closer than two yards) to be held up as a legal drop. As Bob Harig notes, what he said and what he did could be different, and was he close enough for it to be ruled a legal drop? T
That proximity issue the biggest question facing Augusta officials this morning, because this debate has certainly gained steam overnight, whether they knew it or not. If it was an illegal drop, and Tiger should have been penalized two shots, then he would be disqualified from the Masters because he signed and submitted an incorrect scorecard without that penalty.