Tiger gets 2-shot penalty, misses cut

Updated: January 19, 2013, 10:09 AM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- A 2-stroke penalty for taking an improper drop early in his round Friday cost Tiger Woods a chance to compete on the weekend at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where he was receiving a $3 million appearance fee.

Woods, who was making his first start of the 2013 season, mistakenly thought he could take relief from an embedded lie on the fifth hole, and had even sought fellow player Martin Kaymer to ask his opinion. Kaymer agreed, so Woods took a drop.

A writer following the group asked a rules official about the situation, and sure enough, the European Tour's Andy McFee determined that it was a sandy area to the right of the fifth fairway, meaning Woods was not entitled to a drop; he should have played it as it lay or taken an unplayable lie, a 1-stroke penalty.

McFee approached Woods on the 11th hole to inform him there was an issue, and Woods played the rest of the round unsure if he would be penalized or not, likely fearing the worst.

The 2-stroke penalty he received turned a bogey 5 into a triple bogey 7, a 73 into a 75, a total of 145 into 147 -- and a missed cut by a single stroke. The tournament also lost No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy, who shot 75 to miss the cut by three strokes.

Justin Rose played solid, mistake-free golf. Away from the large galleries, the Englishman shot a 69 for a 136 total and a one-shot lead at the halfway point over Jamie Donaldson (70) of Wales , Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (67) of Spain and Thorbjorn Olesen (69) of Denmark.

"Andy said the ball wasn't embedded, because it was sandy based,'' Woods said. "I called Martin over to verify it, and we both agreed it was. We thought it was embedded. But evidently it wasn't.''

Actually, it was. But the issue is whether it was embedded in sand, from where no relief is allowed, according to Rule 25-2.

"It's just one of these situations that both he and Martin, unfortunately, got that rule wrong,'' McFee said. "Under the rules of the game, on all tours, the embedded ball only applies on a closely-mown area. All tours use the note to that rule which extends it through the green, which means everyone on the golf course except hazards.

"But it's very specific that rule, and it refers to ground other than sand. Now unfortunately this area, whilst it's got vegetation on top of it, it's just creeping vegetation and sand, as most is the off-grass areas here. Once we had found out what had gone on, we investigated it.''

Golf tournaments do not have rules officials who walk with every group; typically there are three or four on the grounds, and they can be summoned to give a ruling. Woods only asked Kaymer his opinion about whether the ball was embedded.

"It was embedded and then I walked away,'' said Kaymer. "Embedded & we both thought it was a drop.''

McIlroy agreed.

"I know he called Martin over. It was an embedded ball, but through the green doesn't mean sand -- I wouldn't have know that either. It's tough for Tiger and tough for the tournament to not have him for the weekend,'' said McIlroy.

McFee said it was spectators who brought the possible violation to light, but it was first mentioned to another rules official by Alistair Tait, a writer for Golfweek magazine who happened to be following the group. "I just asked the question,'' Tait said.

Woods made a spirited effort to make the cut regardless of the situation after a horrific front nine that saw him miss the first six greens. With a penalty, he had a 41 on the front side, putting him 5 over par. Birdies at the 14th, 15th and 16th holes got him to 2-over on the cut number, but a poor drive at the 17th hole cost him a bogey and then he failed to birdie the par-5 18th, narrowly missing a 20-footer.

It is unclear if Woods knew coming down to the end that he would be penalized.

"I wanted him to know, this might affect his strategy going forward,'' McFee said. "We had that conversation as he came off the 11th tee. Said we would talk further in the recording (scoring) area. When he got into the recording area, I had the conversation with Tiger, and I said, 'Do you want to go out and have a look at it?' He said, 'Look, if you think that's the right rule, that's good enough for me.'''

Woods did brief interviews afterward and didn't address whether he knew what he had to do to make the cut.

"It's tough because I didn't get off to a very good start today and I fought and got it back,'' he said. "I was right there and I felt that if I had close to even par, I had a chance going into the weekend, being only eight back. Evidently it wasn't enough.''

It was the first time in 22 regular European Tour events Woods has played in his career that he missed the cut. He has won eight of those events, including twice in nearby Dubai.

For his career, Woods is credited with 38 European Tour victories in 117 starts -- 14 major championships, 16 World Golf Championship events and eight regular titles.

Whether he made the cut or not, it was a sloppy, indifferent performance for Woods, who hit only 11 of 28 fairways and only 19 of 36 greens.

"I didn't hit it particularly well,'' he said. "I putted great but just didn't hit it very good. I was struggling with that. I fought hard. I fought hard today. Got off to a bad start and I battled back and got it to where I thought I could play the weekend, and thought I might have a chance, just post two low rounds. But I won't be able to do that.''

Woods is scheduled to make his PGA Tour debut next week at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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