In this new golfing season it did not take long for a tournament Pro to have been penalised for a penalty that he did not realise he had incurred. The surprise is that the player was Tiger Woods, who has a reputation of having a considerably better knowledge of the Rules than most of his fellow Pros.
The breach occurred on the second day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. On the 5th hole Tiger had hit a wayward drive into an area of sand and brush. He found his ball embedded in sand and asked one of his fellow competitors, Martin Kaymer, to come over and watch as he marked and lifted his ball to check that it was embedded. Kaymer agreed that it was. Woods threw the ball to his caddie for cleaning and then dropped it as near as possible to the spot where it lay, but not nearer the hole. He then chipped his ball back onto the fairway. Everything would have been fine had the ball not been embedded in sand. Rule 25-2 only permits relief for a ball that is embedded in a closely mown area, but increasingly we see that tournaments adopt a Local Rule that extends this relief to through the green and this was the case in Abu Dhabi. However, the Local Rule, which can be found in Appendix l, Part B, 4, reads as follows;
“Through the green, a ball that is embedded in its own pitch-mark in the ground may be lifted, without penalty, cleaned and dropped as near as possible to where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green.
Apparently, it was a golf writer following the group that asked a rules official about the situation, and the European Tour's Senior Referee, Andy McFee, determined that the ball was indeed embedded in a sandy area, meaning that Tiger was not entitled to relief without penalty. This proved to be critical, because his resulting penalty of two strokes turned a bogey 5 into a triple bogey 7, a round of 73 into a 75, and a two-day total of 145 into 147. He subsequently missed the cut by a single stroke!
1. A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if the ball is embedded in sand in an area that is not closely mown.
2. A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if interference by anything other than the condition covered by this Local Rule makes the stroke clearly impracticable.
PENALTY FOR BREACH OF LOCAL RULE:
Match play – Loss of hole; Stroke play – Two strokes.”
There is a two minute video of the incident on the Golf Channel web site (following a short ad), but be warned that you cannot actually see the embedded ball at all. Click on this link if you are interested in the scenario that led to the ruling. However, you can clearly see from the photo above that the area where his drive landed was definitely sandy.