AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Tiger Woods again found himself at the center of controversy and a target of Twitter-verse on Saturday when he avoided disqualification from the Masters after taking an illegal drop in the second round.
While golf’s rules are clear that a disqualification was in order, Woods escaped with a two-shot penalty even after admitting in his post-round interview on Friday that he failed to drop his ball as close as possible to the original spot after it ended up in water at the par-five 15th.
Social media immediately exploded to life as golf fans, Woods’ fellow players and even the 14-times major champion himself contributed to the debate.
Anger was directed at both Woods and Masters officials for the ham-handed way in which they handled the entire episode, many upset at a perceived double standard with one set of rules for Woods and another set for everyone else.
The day before, China’s 14-year-old amateur Guan Tianlang was assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play during the second round.
“The rules of golf are clear. Tiger took an incorrect drop so there’s only one outcome. Guan Tianlang will have to be disqualified,” chided BBC sports correspondent Andrew Cotter on Twitter.
Many urged Woods, who entered the year’s first major as the hot favorite to claim a fifth green jacket, to fall on his sword and disqualify himself from the tournament, adding some polish to a still badly tainted image.
But Woods seemed to defuse any such suggestion when he took to Twitter to give his own view of what had happened.
“I was unaware at that time I had violated any rules. I didn’t know I had taken an incorrect drop prior to signing my scorecard,” Woods tweeted.
“Subsequently, I met with the Masters committee Saturday morning and was advised they had reviewed the incident prior to the completion of my round.
“Their initial determination was that there was no violation, but they had additional concerns based on my post-round interview.
“After discussing the situation with them this morning, I was assessed a two-shot penalty. I understand and accept the penalty and respect the committee’s decision.”
Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters competition committee, also came to Woods’ aid on Twitter as he explained the reasoning behind the decision which allowed the world number one to remain in the tournament.
“The penalty of disqualification was waived by the committee under Rule 33 as the committee had previously reviewed the information and made its initial determination prior to the finish of the player’s round,” tweeted Ridley.
That explanation did little to calm the building storm on Twitter.
“This is a joke. In my opinion anyone else would have been DQ’d. When you sign for the wrong score that’s what’s supposed to happen,” said Irish golfer Shane Lowry.
Angela Stanford, one of the top players on the women’s LPGA Tour, added: “If I tell a rules official I wanted 2 more yards, I’m on my way to Dairy Queen for a blizzard.”
Woods ended play on Saturday at three-under but, after the two-stroke setback, will start the third round at one-under, five back of leader Jason Day of Australia.
As it became clear that Woods would continue his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors, the conversation veered towards the American’s eventual legacy which could be irrevocably tainted if he were to come back and win.
“Tiger is the judge and jury on this. He said he moved the ball back two yards to gain the right yardage,” Faldo, a six-time major winner, told Golf Channel.
“The rule clearly states he has to drop it as near as possible. Our rules are black and white: That is a breach of the rules. Simple as that.
“He has to sit down quietly and think about this - the mark this will leave on his career, his legacy.”
As always, many in the Twitter-verse were not taking the decision with the same gravity.
“85% of all golfers are taking illegal drops, hug for u tiger” tweeted former Major League Baseball home run king and self-confessed drug cheat Jose Canseco.
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes