Tiger Woods got ball-drop rule confused at the Masters, says Dottie Pepper

Scott Halleran

Tiger Woods, whose ball-drops, from Abu Dhabi to Ponte Vedra Beach, have come under intense scrutiny several times this season, could benefit from a quick brush-up on golf’s golden rules, says Dottie Pepper.

“I think I’d go to rules school or pay somebody to come in,” Pepper, a 17-time winner on the LPGA Tour and former NBC/Golf Channel analyst, told SBNation on Thursday, more than a month after Woods hit that flagstick in the second round at Augusta, took an illegal drop, and incurred a two-stroke penalty but no disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard. “You don’t have to be an expert in the rules, but you need to know what mistakes not to make.”

In Pepper’s opinion, the world No. 1 just took his eye off the ball.

Woods got parts of Rule 26-1 “completely turned inside out,” Pepper said about either playing a ball as close as possible to the spot of the original shot or dropping it as far back from the hazard while keeping the point at which the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard directly between the hole and the drop spot.

“I think he knows the rules well enough,” said Pepper, a regulations buff with two stints at rules academy. “I think he got completely flustered at the Masters and then it was one mistake compounded after another.”

The ball-drop brouhaha during the final round of The Players Championship was another story, and one that Woods executed to the letter of the law, according to Pepper, who will return to broadcasting with ESPN next month.

Had Pepper, an eight-year broadcast veteran before stepping away at the end of 2012, been in the booth during Sunday’s finale at TPC Sawgrass, she might have handled the situation differently from her former NBC colleague, Johnny Miller.

"That Tiger drop was really, really borderline," Miller said after Woods hit his shot off the 14th tee into the water left of the fairway and took a drop, after conferring with playing partner Casey Wittenberg. "I can't live with myself without saying that."

Pepper viewed the situation from the perspective of an on-site reporter.

“I think it’s very difficult to question a drop from the 18th tower,” she said. “That’s when you really have to lean on people that are on the ground and every camera angle that you possibly have.

“Ultimately,” Pepper said, “it came down to Casey Wittenberg and that was how it was determined and that’s the way the rule is written and that’s the way they executed it.”

Pepper took the headset off to spend more time at home and focus on her work as a board member of the PGA of America. She will return to the course with ESPN at the U.S. Open.

“It was the perfect fit of the events and when they do them,” said Pepper, whose two-year contract will obligate her to cover the U.S. Open, the U.S. Women’s Open, and the U.S. Senior Open. She’ll also be on-course for the British Open, Senior British Open, Women’s British Open, next year’s Masters, and the network’s Friday telecast of the Ryder Cup.

“Oh my gosh, if you could draw up a dream schedule, that’s what it would be,” said Pepper, who never herself used the word, “retirement,” when she stepped away from her NBC gig. “I’m a really lucky girl.”

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