Tiger Woods: WD never an option

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods admitted he made a mistake, was fine with the two-stroke penalty, and never considered withdrawing from the Masters.

Now he'd like to get about the business of trying to win his fifth green jacket.

After a tumultuous day that saw Woods wake up to the news that his status in the tournament was in question, getting a reprieve from disqualification due to a rarely invoked rule (but having two strokes added to his score), Woods was looking forward to Sunday's final round, which finds him four strokes back of leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera.

"It started off obviously different, but I'm right there in the ballgame," Woods said after a 2-under-par 70 at Augusta National left him in a tie for seventh place.

Adam Scott, Marc Leishman, Jason Day and Matt Kuchar are also ahead of Woods, who is tied with Tim Clark.

"As of right now, I'm four back with a great shot to win this championship," Woods said immediately after his round.

That possibility appeared in question early Saturday morning, when television replays and social media conversation heightened about the drop Woods took on the 15th hole during Friday's second round.

Having just clanged his approach shot off the flagstick and into the water, Woods chose the option to drop from his original hitting spot. However, he later told reporters he did so two yards behind where he had just hit.

Those media interviews raised the concerns of the Masters rules committee, led by chairman Fred Ridley, who earlier had reviewed tape of Woods' drop and deemed it within the rules. That is why he said nothing to Woods when he signed his Friday scorecard.

In retrospect, Woods appeared confused over the rules afforded him in such a situation: Play from a drop area (which he declined to do), play from a line going backward from where the ball entered the hazard or play from the original spot.

Woods seemingly tried to do a combination of the latter two, although he admitted the circumstances left him a bit dazed.

"I wasn't even really thinking," Woods said. "I was still a little ticked at what happened, and I was just trying to figure out, 'OK, I need to take some yardage off this shot,' and that's all I was thinking about was trying to make sure I took some yardage off of it, and evidently it was pretty obvious, I didn't drop in the right spot."

That should have meant a two-stroke penalty and a triple-bogey 8. But Woods wrote down a bogey 6 after a great up-and-down, then bogeyed the final hole and signed for what he thought was a 71.

During this time, Ridley said, the Masters rules committee became aware of a concern that Woods had violated the drop rules via a television viewer. They looked at video and determined he was OK, never mentioning it. When the committee revisited the issue later, they determined that Woods had violated Rule 26 -- but that Rule 33-7 also should be invoked.

That rule saves a player from disqualification in the event he signed his scorecard without the committee bringing forth the proper information.

"Tiger was entitled to have the benefit of that decision when he signed his scorecard," Ridley said. "And to me it would have been grossly unfair to Tiger to have disqualified him after our committee had made that decision."

The ruling sparked a good bit of conversation -- including many players and commentators calling for Woods to withdraw or disqualify himself. Woods said he never considered that option.

"Under the rules of golf, I can play," he said. "I was able to go out there and compete and play. ... Evidently this is the (Padraig) Harrington rule, I guess. If this happened a year or two ago, I wouldn't have the opportunity to play. But the rules have changed, and under the rules of golf, I was able to play."

Actually, Woods -- and many others -- were misinformed. The Harrington rule, which is 33-7/4.5, was added two years ago but didn't apply in this case. The broader rule allows a committee the leeway to void a disqualification -- although it's rarely invoked.

Nonetheless, several came to Woods' defense. Graeme McDowell did so on Twitter. Defending Masters champion Bubba Watson said spectators or fans -- as happened in this case originally -- should not be allowed to call in rules violations. Woods' friend, Steve Stricker, also thinks the ruling was just.

"The way it all played out, they got it right," he said. "I don't think he should have been DQ'd, although he did take an illegal drop. But everybody knew about it before he signed the card. That's why they waived the DQ part of it."

Had Woods not been assessed the penalty, he would enter Sunday's round just two shots out of the lead.

Either way, he will have to do something he's never done -- come from behind to win a major championship. All 14 of Woods' major victories occurred with him at least sharing the 54-hole lead. Seven of his PGA Tour wins -- the last at the 2012 Memorial -- have come after deficits of three strokes or more.

Woods joked that it's "never good" when he has a text from his agent, Mark Steinberg, so early in the morning. He was alerted to the issues on his drop on No. 15, then drove to Augusta National to meet with Ridley.

After the situation was resolved, Woods went back to his rental home.

"Normal," he said. "I went to the gym. Got all activated and ready to go, and once I came to the golf course, I was ready to play."

He birdied the first hole Saturday but was unable to get much going on the front side, making another birdie at the sixth, but bogeys at the fourth and ninth. After another bogey at the 11th, Woods birdied the 12th and 13th holes, then gave himself a 10-foot eagle try at Friday's troublesome 15th hole, two-putting for birdie.

Woods then made nice par saves at each of the final three holes, twice getting up-and-down from bunkers.

Overall, Woods had his shaky moments. He hit just six fairways and 11 greens. He needed 28 putts, three times missing from inside 4 feet, including a 2-footer at the eighth hole.

Woods does have a few historical notes going for him. Four of the last six Masters winners trailed after 54 holes. And just one of the last four and just four of the last 15 major winners overall went on to win.