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

A scoreboard operator delivers the news of Tiger's 8 to Augusta National patrons
A scoreboard operator delivers the news of Tiger's 8 to Augusta National patrons. / Fred Vuich/Sports Illustrated

At 11:54 a.m., Woods sent out a series of bland tweets recapping the situation. He concluded by saying, "I understand and accept the penalty and respect the Committees' [sic] decision." There was no hint he ever considered withdrawing.

The debate raged on. Greg Norman, who spent 331 weeks at No. 1 in the World Ranking, tweeted, "It is all about the player and the integrity of the game. Woods violated the rules as he played #1 carries a greater burden. WD for the game." Shane Lowry, a European tour player, chimed in, tweeting: "This is a joke. In my opinion anyone else would have been DQ'd. When you sign for the wrong score that's what's supposed to happen." It's true that Woods had no idea what was going on behind the scenes when he signed his scorecard, but Ridley's failure to identify the violation and his decision not to discuss the situation with Woods created exactly the "exceptional individual case" described in 33-7, allowing for disqualification to be waived.

It wasn't until 1 p.m. that Ridley went to the press room to discuss particulars. Payne, like onetime Augusta National member Dwight D. Eisenhower, sees himself as an authoritative leader, but he did not accompany Ridley to offer support. To those in the room, the message was clear: You made this mess. Now go face the music. (Augusta National declined to make Payne available for an interview.)

Ridley did an admirable job dealing with his inquisitors. The press conference ended with this question: "Is there a concern on your part that the perception is going to be that you guys are [giving] Tiger special treatment?" Ridley replied, "All I can say is that unequivocally this tournament is about integrity. Our founder Bobby Jones was about integrity, and if this had been John Smith from wherever, he would have gotten the same ruling, because again, it is the right ruling under these circumstances."

With the two-stroke penalty, Woods's score on the 15th hole became an 8, giving him a second-round 73 that dropped him to one under, five strokes behind Day. Tiger did not play his best golf over the weekend, finishing tied for fourth, four back of Adam Scott. Four strokes is, of course, the difference between what he might have made at 15 had his third shot missed the flagstick and the snowman he wound up with. But not winning was probably the best thing that could have happened to Woods and the Masters because it avoided the nightmare scenario of an asterisk being attached to his quest to break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major-championship victories.

The drop seemed to follow Woods everywhere in 2013. In May, he was leading the Players during the final round when he hooked his tee shot on the 14th hole into the water. Where he played his third shot from created a new kerfuffle. On the NBC telecast Johnny Miller opined, "That Tiger drop was really, really borderline. I can't live with myself without saying that." For all the mistakes Woods made in his private life, his reputation for upholding the rules had always been beyond reproach, even after he was assessed a two-shot penalty in Abu Dhabi in January 2013 for improperly taking relief in a sandy area. Now he was no longer being given the benefit of the doubt.

In September, during the second round of the BMW Championship, Woods's ball settled in a grove of trees behind the 1st green. As he tried to clear loose impediments, his ball moved and he immediately recoiled. Woods did not report the movement to his playing partners or tournament officials, saying later he thought the ball had merely oscillated and settled in its original position. PGA Tour rules officials assessed a two-stroke penalty, which Woods vehemently protested despite video replays clearly showing the ball had changed positions. The Associated Press's Doug Ferguson wrote a story that suggested Woods was in danger of "losing the locker room. A few players privately mocked him during the final round. 'Oscillation' became a punch line."

In an October column for Golf.com, Chamblee graded Tiger's season an F because he had been "a little cavalier" with the rules. When Steinberg said he was considering legal action, Chamblee apologized and gave up his writing gig for GOLF MAGAZINE and Golf.com, which are part of the SI Golf Group.

All of this unpleasantness can be traced to a series of mistakes that intruded upon the carefully maintained artificial reality within the gates of Augusta National. A year after the drop, many of those involved wish the whole thing would just go away. Augusta National's culture of stonewalling has a chilling effect—no print reporter would speak on the record for this story, while Woods, Steinberg and LaCava declined interview requests, just as Golf Channel execs silenced their on-air talent. What we do have are the words from Ridley's press conference, and one mournful line rings even more true now. Asked if he wished he had spoken to Woods before he signed his scorecard on that fateful Friday evening, Ridley replied, "There's not a day that goes by that there are not some things I wish I would have done differently."

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