AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods dropped two strokes at the Masters before he even hit a shot Saturday. At least he's still in the tournament.
Woods got a reprieve at the Masters when he was given a two-shot penalty for a bad drop but avoided a more serious sanction — disqualification.
"I took a drop that I thought was correct and in accordance with the rules," Woods said on Twitter. "I understand and accept the penalty and respect the committee's decision."
Still, the ruling stirred up plenty of debate on social media. Some fellow golfers claimed Woods got special treatment and others noted it came one day after 14-year-old Guan Tianlang was penalized a stroke for slow play, nearly causing him to miss the cut.
Some even called for Woods to withdraw.
"I think he should WD. He took a drop to gain an advantage," tweeted David Duval, once Woods' top rival.
"I guess Tiger is BIGGER than golf. Any other person in the world gets DQ'd. Gotta keep those TV ratings going right?" added Kyle Thompson, who plays on a lower-level tour.
Hunter Mahan, who missed the Masters cut, praised the decision.
"I like this ruling because he took an illegal drop but no official brought it to his attention," Mahan tweeted.
Still in the game, Woods birdied the very first hole. But he couldn't keep the momentum going, making the turn with an even-par 36 after a 2-foot try at the par-5 eighth spun all the way around the cup — and came out.
Woods was five shots behind 2009 champion Angel Cabrera and Australians Jason Day and Marc Leishman. Day stayed at 6 under with seven straight pars to start the third round, while Leishman and Cabrera joined him at the top with birdies at the eighth.
Day, the runner-up in his Augusta debut two years ago, acknowledged the burden that comes from trying to be the first Australian to win a green jacket.
"Obviously, there's a lot of pressure on my shoulders, being from Australia and no Australian has ever won the event," Day said Friday. "They have been very, very close, but I've just got to try to get that out of my mind and just plug away."
Five players were at 4 under, including Steve Stricker, Jason Dufner and another Aussie, Adam Scott. Fifty-three-year-old Fred Couples dropped back after a double-bogey at the seventh, when his tee shot barely missed the fairway and he flew his approach into the bunker behind the green.
Tim Clark made the biggest charge among the early players, shooting a 5-under 67 that left him at 3-under 213.
The penalty against Woods made it harder for him to win his fifth green jacket. Instead of starting Saturday's third round three strokes off the lead, he faced a five-shot deficit.
The problem began after Woods' third shot at the par-5 15th struck the flag stick and ricocheted back into the water. He took his penalty drop two yards behind where he hit the original shot, which was a rules violation.
After a call from a television viewer, Augusta National reviewed the drop before Woods signed his card and found nothing wrong. Woods later said he was trying to drop it behind the original spot. His interview prompted the club to review it again and Woods was given a two-shot penalty. That put him at 1-over 73 instead of 71 for a 1-under 143 total.
Signing an incorrect scorecard generally results in disqualification, but Woods was saved by a new rule — announced at the Masters two years ago — that allows a player to stay in the tournament if a rules dispute was based on television evidence.
Fred Ridley, chairman of the competition committees, said there was never any talk of booting Woods from the tournament because the club had initially cleared him of wrongdoing before he signed his card. Essentially, Augusta National took the blame.
Ridley also disputed any notion that the ruling would have been different for a lesser player.
"I can't really control what the perception might or might not be," Ridley said. "All I can say is that unequivocally this tournament is about integrity. Our founder, Bobby Jones, was about integrity, and if this had been John Smith from wherever, he would have gotten the same ruling because it is the right ruling under these circumstances."
The decision grabbed more attention than any shot so far at this Masters. Woods not only is the No. 1 player and golf's biggest star, he had won two straight tournaments coming into the Masters. He was the overwhelming favorite to win, ending a five-year drought in the majors, and capture the green jacket for the first time since 2005. With 14 major titles, he trails only Jack Nicklaus with 18.
Golf is the only sport where TV viewers act as rules officials. If they see a violation and it turns out to be true, a player must be penalized.
Woods, however, indicted himself by explaining how he took the drop.
"I went back to where I played it from, but went two yards further back and I tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit," Woods said Friday after he signed for a 71. "And that should land me short of the flag and not have it either hit the flag or skip over the back. I felt that was going to be the right decision to take off four (yards) right there. And I did. It worked out perfectly."
He hit that fifth shot to about 4 feet and made the putt for bogey.
Rules 26-1 says that if a player chooses to go back to his original spot, the ball should be dropped as "nearly as possible" to the spot where it was last played. Photos and video shows his ball dropped at least a yard behind his previous divot.
Rule 33 states that disqualification can be waived at the committee's discretion. However, a decision that accompanies this rule says that the committee would not be justified to waive the DQ if it was a result of the player's ignorance of the rules or if he could have reasonably discovered his mistake before signing his scorecard.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963