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Tiger Woods’ Masters ball drop recalls rules gaffe in Abu Dhabi

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Tiger Woods is no stranger to illegal ball drops, as he encountered one such controversy earlier this season in Abu Dhabi.

Mike Ehrmann

As the golf world received the news that Tiger Woods dodged a bullet and will continue to play for his fifth green jacket after incurring a two-shot penalty for an illegal ball drop at Augusta, it’s clear from past evidence that the 14-time major champ needs to bone up on his USGA rules book.

Back in January, in his first worldwide event of the 2013 season at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, Woods incurred a two-stroke penalty for -- yup -- taking an illegal drop. That penalty cost him dearly as he missed the cut, though the price he would have paid for getting bounced from the Masters would have obviously been far more onerous.

As for the Abu Dhabi situation, Woods hit his ball wide right into some tangled vines growing in a sandy waste area between the fifth and sixth fairways. He discovered the ball was plugged and called playing partner Martin Kaymer over for a conference.

After Kaymer agreed that Woods was allowed to take relief without penalty, Tiger punched the ball back to the fairway and carded a bogey. Or so he believed.

The bogey turned into a triple after two spectators informed officials about the incident, and European Tour chief referee Andy McFee decided that Woods had incurred a two-stroke penalty for breaching Rule 25-2, which allows relief through the green but not when balls are embedded in sandy areas.

The situation got even odder when it turned out that the “spectators” who alerted officials were two reporters following the threesome around the course. Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard identified himself and Golfweek’s Alistair Tait as the accidental whistle-blowers.

“I was live-tweeting and live-reporting the event on Twitter,” Hoggard said on his network after the round. “I just needed to find out if [Woods] took a free drop or if he was penalized for that drop, simply for the reporting purposes."

“I’m not sure what happened with Alistair after I walked away,” Hoggard added, “but I know while I was standing there neither one of us asked the tour rules officials to review this. We were just trying to get clarification for reporting purposes.”

In any case, instead of finishing with a 1-over 73, Woods signed for a triple-bogey 7 on No. 5 and a second-round 75, which landed him one stroke over the cut line -- his first missed cut in 21 Euro Tour starts.

Woods did not explain why he declined to call for a referee’s ruling before taking a drop on the fifth hole. Perhaps even more surprising was the ignorance of the rule that all three veterans in the group displayed.

“I didn’t know about [the rule]. He didn’t know about it, otherwise he wouldn’t have done it,” said Kaymer.

"I didn't know the rule either,” added Rory McIlroy, who was a member of the threesome.

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