AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Tiger Woods dropped two strokes at the Masters before he even hit a shot Saturday, and he still has a chance to wear another green jacket.
Woods shot a 2-under 70 in the third round at Augusta National, shaking off a two-stroke penalty assessed before he went out to the first tee. When he walked off the 18th green after sinking a testy par putt, he was four strokes off the lead.
It could have been better. And worse. At least he didn't get disqualified.
Augusta National gave Woods a reprieve, ruling an improper drop Friday should result in a two-shot penalty instead of getting him kicked out of the tournament.
He said it was the right decision, even though some called for him to withdraw for signing an improper scorecard.
"I'm abiding by the rules," said Woods, who was at 3-under 213. "I made a mistake under the rules of golf. I took an improper drop, and I got the penalty."
Brandt Snedeker and Australia's Jason Day were tied for the lead at 7 under, while two more Aussies, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman, and 2009 Masters champion Angel Cabrera were another stroke back. On moving day at Augusta, no one made much of a move, setting up quite a shootout on Sunday.
This day will be remembered for the penalty against Woods, which sure 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.
"I think (Woods) should WD (withdraw). He took a drop to gain an advantage," tweeted David Duval, once Woods' top rival.
Others said it was the right decision.
"I know he didn't do anything malicious or was trying to gain an advantage or anything like that," Nick Watney said. "I'm sure he feels terrible about it and I believe 100 percent that he didn't do anything on purpose."
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. He couldn't keep the momentum going on the front nine, 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.
"I've never seen a horseshoe like," Woods moaned.
But he made three birdies on the back side — including one at the hole that stirred up so much controversy the day before, the par-5 15th. Knocking a 5-iron over the water, he actually had a shot at eagle before tapping in for par. Nifty par saves at the last three holes left Woods in decent position going to the final round.
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," he 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."
Day won't be the only Aussie with a shot on Sunday. There's Scott, who nearly won the British Open last summer before a late collapse, and the unheralded Leishman, who missed the cut in his only other Masters appearance.
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, but not impossible. 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 15th Friday 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.
"They made the determination that nothing had happened," Woods said. "After that is when things changed. They called me this morning and I got a two-shot penalty. Now it's time to play."
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