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Tiger Woods and the Drop: An inside look at golf's most controversial pardon

Tiger Woods Masters 2013 Drop
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
Tiger Woods moved two yards back from the site of the original shot, then unwittingly admitted to his rules violation in a postround interview.

The 2013 Masters was supposed to be a return to glory for Tiger Woods. Four weeks earlier he had reassumed his spot atop the World Ranking, a significant milestone on the long journey back to dominance. Woods had rebuilt his life and golf game since his fall from grace in 2009; a win at the Masters would complete the journey. Few athletes have as much freighted history with a venue as Woods does with Augusta National. It is where his legend was born with a record win in 1997. Three more victories would follow over the next eight years.

Augusta National is where Woods chose to return to public life after his sex scandal, but his relationship with the club was complicated by the public scolding he received from its chairman, Billy Payne. From the bully pulpit of his press conference before the 2010 Masters, Payne had said, "We at Augusta hope and pray that our great champion will begin his new life here tomorrow in a positive, hopeful and constructive manner, but this time, with a significant difference from the past. This year, it will not be just for him, but for all of us who believe in second chances."

It was Augusta National's insular culture and Woods's singular presence that ultimately led to the most controversial second chance in golf history.

Woods opened the 77th Masters with a two-under 70, good for 13th place. His Friday tee time was at 1:41 p.m., the second-to-last on a day that was marred by an incident involving Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old phenom from China who had earned an invitation by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. After a remarkable opening 73, the short-hitting Guan was fighting to make the cut when, on the 17th hole, he was assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play. The glacial pace at the Masters has been a scourge for decades, but Guan's was the first such penalty in tournament history. "I'm sick for him," said two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw, one of Guan's playing partners. Derek Lawrenson of The Daily Mail made explicit the issue of selective justice, noting that Woods's group "took nearly four hours to play the first 11 holes, without any penalty."

The Guan debate highlighted the tournament's idiosyncratic rules infrastructure. The Masters rules committee consists of 40 officials who are cherry-picked from ruling bodies and golf organizations worldwide. They fall under the domain of the powerful three-man competition committee, which is chaired by Augusta National member Fred Ridley. However, the vast majority of rules officials are not members and thus, unlike Ridley, not beholden to the club. And even though it has by far the smallest field of the four majors, the Masters is the only one that does not assign a walking rules official to every group. Guan had been dinged by a roving official—John Paramor, an officious Englishman who is the chief referee for the European tour. Payne and Ridley were mute about Guan's penalty, so it was left to Paramor to explain his ruling. In his rich baritone, he presented the rules as black-and-white. "How do I feel about it?" Paramor said. "I feel the same in all these situations. It is my job. It is what I do."

Asked on Friday night for his reaction to the Guan penalty, Woods offered an unforgiving analysis: "Well, rules are rules."

Starting nearly five hours after Guan, Woods sent a charge through Augusta National with birdies on the 5th, 7th and 8th holes. As he played deeper into a golden early evening, the stage seemed to be his alone. Arriving on the 15th tee, Woods held a share of the lead and was the only player in the field without a bogey on a day when the wind was gusting. He sliced his drive on the par-5 into the trees and then punched out down the right side, giving himself a good angle to a flag cut on the front left of the water-guarded green. From 85 yards Woods played a baby cut with his 60-degree wedge. The ideal way to attack that pin is to land the ball short and right of the hole and have it release down the slope, but Woods flew the shot a couple of yards too far. The ball struck the flagstick two feet up and caromed backward at about a 45-degree angle to the left, rolling into the pond. Woods stared in disbelief but otherwise displayed little emotion.

About Augusta National's flagsticks: Though a club spokesman says otherwise, one caddie suggests there was something different about them in 2013. "All the players and caddies were talking about it," says the veteran caddie, who requested anonymity. "They were like twice as thick as usual. I had a feeling someone was going to get a bad break and have a ball bounce hard off the flag."

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