AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods still has a chance to win the Masters.
Most of his fellow players seem OK with that.
Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty Saturday before he went out for the third round of the Masters, a ruling that stirred plenty of debate because of the way it was handled by Augusta National.
Woods could’ve been disqualified for signing an improper scorecard. Instead, he was docked a couple of strokes, bounced back to shoot a 2-under 70, and will go to the final round four strokes behind so-leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera — still in the running for a fifth green jacket.
Steve Stricker was among those who believe club officials got it right, since they viewed a replay of the improper drop while Woods was still on the course Friday and initially ruled he had done nothing wrong.
Later, Woods conceded in several media interviews that he dropped his ball 2 yards behind the spot of his original shot at the 15th hole, after it ricocheted off the flag stick and into the water in front of the green.
“They addressed it before he actually signed his card, and from what I understand they said go ahead and sign your card,” said Stricker, who was one shot behind Woods. “If they would have come up to him before he signed his card, he would have said, `OK, well, let’s go through it, and you’re right. I did take two steps back, it’s a two-shot penalty, and I signed for two shots higher.’ End of story.”
Lucas Glover and Nick Watney both stressed that Woods would never knowingly violate a rule to gain an advantage.
They, too, felt two strokes was the proper penalty.
“He’s as up-and-up with the rules as anybody,” Glover said. “He’s always been a stickler for the rules and a traditionalist for the game. So am I comfortable with it? Yeah, I’m fine with it because I know they did everything they could to make the right decision.”
“I’m sure he feels terrible about it and I believe 100 percent that he didn’t do anything on purpose,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll not do that again ever.”
Defending Masters champion Bubba Watson grumbled about viewers calling in possible infractions they see on television, which is what prompted the initial review of Woods’ drop. After hearing his post-round comments, officials reviewed the tape again and decided there was an infraction. But, under a new rule designed to address such TV cases, the club decided it would be wrong to disqualify Woods.
Watson said he had to answer for a swing at the 2007 U.S. Open because a viewer accused him of double-hitting the ball.
“Whoever called in was wrong,” he recalled. “The situation made it look like I did something wrong, but I didn’t. So people calling in are making us look bad.”
As for Woods, “He took a drop that he felt was right,” Watson said. “He wasn’t trying to cheat anybody. He thought it was right. And unfortunate for him that he got a two-shot penalty. But fortunate for him that he’s still playing.”
Real fortunate, said several golfers who didn’t qualify for the Masters but weighed in on the issue via social media.
David Duval, who once supplanted Woods as the world’s top-ranked player but is no longer a regular on the PGA Tour, went on Twitter to say his former rival should pull out of the year’s first major to make things right.
“Was there intent to break the rule is the question?” Duval wrote. “I think he should WD (withdraw). He took a drop to gain an advantage.”
Kyle Thompson, who plays on a lower-tier tour, felt Woods was getting preferential treatment — a perception that Augusta National strongly denied.
“I guess Tiger is BIGGER than golf,” Thompson tweeted. “Any other person in the world gets DQ’d. Gotta keep those TV ratings going right?”
Hunter Mahan said the issue was more complicated than that. He failed to make the cut at the Masters but was intrigued by the precedent.
“I like this ruling because he took an illegal drop but no official brought it to his (attention),” Mahan tweeted, adding that both sides — those who thought Woods should be DQed, those who thought a two-stroke penalty was proper — had good points to make. “Not sure the right answer.”
Former player and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger said the decision was fair.
“I actually like the fact that he’s protected,” Azinger said on ESPN. “He signed the correct card, they added two shots for a penalty he didn’t realize he committed.”
But another former player, Curtis Strange, was troubled by the ruling.
“Whatever the case is, he didn’t drop as close as possible as he could,” Strange said. “Did he do it intentionally? No. He did it unintentionally and broke a rule.”
For the most part, the Augusta gallery seemed pleased that Woods was still around for the weekend. He received nothing but cheers when he stepped up to the first tee.
However, one fan made an off-handed complaint when Woods pitched up short of the flag at No. 3.
“He should have given himself a couple of extra yards there,” the man said.
No one is counting Woods out, even though the two-stroke penalty doubled the margin he must overcome on Sunday.
“If anybody can bounce back from a two-shot penalty,” Keegan Bradley said, “it’s Tiger.”
Certainly CBS was pleased to have Woods around for two more rounds, knowing his presence would provide a big boost in the ratings.
“I’m glad I didn’t have to make the decision,” Watney said. “But I guess Tiger’s here, so that’s good for golf.”