AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods was able to play in the third round of the Masters Saturday, having avoided a possible disqualification and receiving instead a two-stroke penalty after having dropped a ball illegally Friday.
After he shot 2-under-par 70 Saturday, getting to 3 under for the tournament -- four shots off the lead -- he said he had no qualms about competing and never considered voluntarily pulling out. "Under the rules of golf, I can play," he said. "I was able to go out there and compete and play."
Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters competition committee, said there had been no consideration of disqualifying the four-time champion and world No. 1 player, even though disqualification can be the price for a violation such as the one Woods committed on the 15th hole Friday.
An illegal drop in itself is not cause for being kicked out of a tournament, but it can result in a player having incurred a penalty shot or two without knowing it, which would mean he signed a scorecard that had an incorrect score. And that is cause for disqualification.
Ridley said that the committee erred in not telling Woods about a concern that came up in a phone call from someone who noticed the illegal drop. Masters officials looked at a video of the incident and at first saw nothing wrong, Ridley said. But then they heard Woods give a post-tournament interview and say that he had dropped his ball two yards behind the spot of his original shot.
"It created some further doubt, at least in some people's minds, as to whether or not Tiger had, in fact, violated a rule," Ridley said, adding that after interviewing Woods at about 8 Saturday morning, officials decided that the golfer "had, in fact, violated Rule 26 under the Rules of Golf."
His punishment was a two-stroke penalty -- the normal assessment of having hit from the wrong spot -- which meant that Woods started his Saturday round at 1 under par instead of 3 under. He acknowledged the mistake he had made a day earlier. "It was pretty obvious I didn't drop in the right spot," he said.
A disqualification of perhaps the most high-profile golfer of all time at the most widely watched tournament of the year could have been historic. As it was, the episode touched off heated debate among golfers and golf observers on television and social media. Three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo asserted on Golf Channel on Saturday morning that Woods should voluntarily disqualify himself, although he backed off that position on CBS later.
Players in the field generally backed Woods and the Masters. Defending champion Bubba Watson said, "People here at the Masters are not going to make a bad decision, so whatever their decision is, is what we're going to stick with."
The incident began with a bad break off a seemingly perfect shot into the 15th green Friday. Woods' ball hit off the flagstick and caromed left, off the green and down into a lake.
Rule 26-1 says that a golfer in that situation can drop a ball "as nearly as possible" to the original location or can hit from a point aligned with where the ball entered the hazard. Woods did not drop his new ball off to the left. He did drop it several feet behind the divot from his first shot.
"You know, I wasn't ever really thinking," Woods said Saturday. "I was still a little bit ticked at what happened, and I was just trying to figure, OK, I need to take some yardage off this shot."
That is, he intended to hit the next one shorter, so it would not hit the flagstick again. Afterward, he acknowledged during interviews that his drop had been "two yards further back."
Having heard that, Ridley and other officials reconsidered their original decision to not penalize Woods. The group decided against a disqualification, citing rule 33-7, which was adopted by golf governing bodies in 2011 to allow competition committees leeway.
It was designed to prevent golfers from being disqualified after the fact, without warning or notice, if someone called in to point out an infraction that had not been noticed on the course.
Ridley said the U.S. Golf Association, PGA Tour and European golf officials were notified of the decision and agreed with it.
That freed Woods to concentrate on his game. He said, "Once I came to the golf course, I was ready to play."