Tiger Woods got away with one at the 2013 Masters, hints Arnold Palmer

Sam Greenwood

Surprised by Tiger Woods’ illegal ball drop at Augusta in April, Arnold Palmer suggests the world No. 1 should have withdrawn from the Masters despite receiving a favorable ruling from tourney officials.

BOSTON, Mass. -- Arnold Palmer, who was at the epicenter of a long-ago ball-drop dispute at Augusta, suggested Wednesday that Tiger Woods should have withdrawn from the Masters in April after tourney officials slapped him with a two-stroke penalty instead of a disqualification for taking an illegal drop during the second round.

After his approach shot to the green on Augusta’s par-5 15th hit the flagstick and caromed into the water hazard in front of the green, Woods took an improper ball drop and signed for a bogey-6 that, thanks to a couple of tips from TV viewers and a new rule, became a triple-bogey 8 the next day.

Observers near and far dissected Woods’ action and many contended that withdrawing from the event would have been the honorable thing for the world No. 1 to do. Palmer, in Boston to help the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund celebrate the 100th anniversary of its namesake’s improbable U.S. Open victory at The Country Club in Brookline, was unwilling to go quite that far.
"I’m surprised that Tiger did what he did, I mean, he knows the rules." -Arnold Palmer

"I’m surprised that Tiger did what he did, I mean, he knows the rules," the seven-time major champion told SBNation.

"I know what I would have done," Palmer, declining to state his opinion definitively, said with a grin that became a laugh.

Palmer was also cagey about whether the PGA Tour should accept rules-related calls from fans watching the proceedings from afar, like the one from David Eger, a Champions Tour player and former USGA and PGA Tour rules official, who blew the whistle on Woods after that improper drop at the Masters.

"We’ve seen some pretty dramatic things recently on that subject and the jury’s still out," said Palmer.

While shying away from the controversial topic, Palmer did express certainty about one aspect of the argument.

"The players should be ruling within themselves," said Palmer, who has some experience on that score.

One can only imagine the kerfuffle that would have erupted if golf events were broadcast as widely back in the 1950s as they are today. Armchair refs would have gone ballistic had they witnessed the altercation between Palmer and playing partner Ken Venturi in the final round of the 1958 Masters.

With his tee shot embedded in soft soil off the green of the par-3 12th hole, Palmer argued unsuccessfully with Venturi and an on-site rules official for a free drop. He ended up playing the ball from the spot and carded a double-bogey, but, citing a rule that lets a golfer play a second ball from the disputed spot, did just that and made par. The situation was resolved -- in Palmer’s favor -- before he signed his scorecard.

The conflict arose because Venturi claimed Palmer failed to state he would play a second ball until he was in the cup with a five. Palmer, who went on to win the contest, said he had announced his intention before hitting the original ball.

The issue nettled Venturi for years afterward.

"It could never happen today," Venturi told ESPN in 2008. "There were only five of us there and no cameras. I told Arnold he should get a drop, and that's when [the rules official] said it was half embedded. Well, that's like being half pregnant. It either is embedded or it isn't.

"But that's what he ruled, and when Palmer played the second ball, I told him you can't do that. You have to declare it before you hit it. Suppose he had chipped in the embedded ball?"

Given the tension between the two combatants and the way the episode played out, it was not surprising to hear Palmer say that situations like the public spat between Woods and Sergio Garcia at last week’s Players Championship were par for the course.

"It’s something that has been going on for some time," Palmer said about Garcia blaming Woods for his bad shot on the second hole of the third round and the disparaging comments from both contestants (and tourney marshals) that followed. "I don’t think that anything happened last week at The Players was intentional. I think it was an accident."
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