Tiger Woods was allowed to stay in the Masters because of a relatively new rule that allows officials to waive disqualification penalties in special circumstances.
The USGA rule (number 33-7/4.5) was changed in 2011. It basically allows tour officials to not disqualify a player if instant reply after a player’s round shows that he unknowingly violated a rule.
For instance, the USGA included this great example in the explanation of the rule (which we paraphrased):
A player unknowingly glances a few grains of sand on his backswing while hitting a bunker shot. No one notices it, and the player finishes his round. But hours later it gets slowed down to 1/16th speed on TV and you see that he actually hit that one grain of sand, which is a violation. Under the new rule, officials can simply give him a two-stroke penalty after-the-fact and waive the disqualification penalty for handing in an incorrect scorecard.
There are two keys that allow a player to avoid disqualification under rule 33.7:
- No one realised he committed a violation at the time
- The player didn’t know and couldn’t have known he had committed a violation
That final point is where things get dicey for Tiger.
He said in a statement on Twitter that he didn’t know his drop was illegal. That’s plausible. But for him to get saved by this rule and remain in the Masters, there had to be no way he could have known that he was breaking a rule.
His ignorance of the “factual circumstances” (as the rule puts it) had the be the same as a player who unknowingly scrapes a single grain a sand in a bunker shot.
The USGA provided another example of a situation where a disqualification penalty CANNOT be waived, which applies here (paraphrased):
A player moves a loose impediment (a clump of dirt, or whatever) in an area where his putt might end up while it’s still moving. No one notices, and the player doesn’t take a penalty. Under the new rule, he would still be disqualified after the violation was discovered through instant replay because he should have known that he couldn’t move that clump of dirt based on the circumstances.
So, in essence, the rule that saved Tiger says a player can avoid disqualification if he didn’t know he was breaking a rule, but not if he should have known he was breaking a rule.
Augusta is saying that Tiger couldn’t have known he was breaking a rule when he took that illegal drop.
It’s the definition of a judgement call. The rule states that waiving disqualification should be used in “rare situations where it is reasonable that a player is unaware of the factual circumstances of a breach.”
Augusta had to answer the question: Should Tiger have known that what he was doing was illegal?
That is an inherently subjective question. This is the grayest of grey areas.
It comes down to looking at this before-and-after screenshot of the drop, and saying, “No, there’s no way Tiger could have known that this was illegal at the time. It’s only when you slow it down that you can see he was breaking the rule.”
There’s not necessarily a right answer.
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