PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- For the third time this year, Tiger Woods had an issue with a penalty drop, this time incurring no penalty during the final round of his victory at The Players Championship on Sunday.
When Woods' tee shot at the par-4 14th hole at TPC Sawgrass found a lateral water hazard that runs to the left of the fairway, he had to take a drop that was questioned by NBC's Johnny Miller as being "really, really borderline."
At issue is determining where the ball last crossed land and went into the hazard. Woods ended up taking a drop that was 255 yards from the pin. His 3-wood tee shot, which he said was a "pop-up, big, high hook," started well to the right and then "went way left," Woods said.
The only way to know where the ball crossed the hazard line is to have seen it from the tee. Woods consulted with playing competitor Casey Wittenberg and Wittenberg's caddie/coach, Adam Schriber, to determine where to drop.
"I saw it perfectly from the tee," Wittenberg said. "I told him exactly where I thought it crossed, and we all agreed. ... I told him I thought it crossed on the corner of the bunker right where he took his drop, and it's all good."
Wittenberg was questioned several times about the drop and the ball flight, which he said was hooking into the water.
"Yes, for sure, there is no doubt, guys," he said. "The ball crossed where he dropped."
Mark Russell, the PGA Tour's vice president of competitions and a rules official who was involved in a recent dispute involving a Woods drop at the Masters, said his staff reviewed the situation and said, ultimately, you have to go with the player, his caddie and the other players in the group.
"They both saw it," Russell said of Woods and Wittenberg. "They're back there with a television commentator [NBC's Mark Rolfing], who basically agreed with them. He said he hit a high hook. The problem is on television, that area looked the same, and they thought he dropped up there where it splashed. He dropped it 60 yards back of that. The players had the view of it."
Russell also issued an interpretation via a statement on the PGA Tour's website.
"Without definitive evidence, the point where Woods' ball last crossed the lateral water hazard is determined through best judgment by Woods and his fellow competitor," the statement read. "If that point later proves to be a wrong point (through television or other means), the player is not penalized by Rule 26-1 given the fact that a competitor would risk incurring a penalty every time he makes an honest judgment as to the point where his ball last crosses a water-hazard margin and that judgment subsequently proves incorrect (Decision 26-1/17)."
Woods has suffered two-shot penalties for improper drops twice this year.
At the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January, he incorrectly took a drop because he thought his ball was imbedded. However, since it was in a sandy area, he was not allowed to drop. Those two shots cost him making the cut.
Last month at the Masters, Woods failed to drop "as near as possible" to the spot from where he hit his third shot in the water at Augusta National's 15th hole. Augusta's rules committee received a call about the matter, but determined there was no breach without discussing it with Woods.
Later, after Woods described his drop in media interviews, the committee determined Woods was in error, but it did not disqualify him for signing an incorrect scorecard due to its failure to discuss the matter with him. Woods went on to tie for fourth, four shots behind winner Adam Scott.
On Sunday, after taking the drop at the 14th, Woods hit a shot up near the green, but failed to get up-and-down and took a double-bogey 6 to drop into a four-way tie with Jeff Maggert, Sergio Garcia and David Lingmerth. He later birdied the 16th hole and ended up winning the Players by two strokes.
Asked if he considered calling over a rules official given his recent issues with drops, Woods said: "If they're not there, they can't see it, so there's really no point. The only guys who really know are Casey and his caddie, so that's who we rely on."