On a day that so much attention was given to a rules infraction, it’s another rules infraction that everyone should be talking about.
We all know that 14 year old Guan Tianlang, competing at a level far beyond his age, was assessed a 1-stroke penalty for slow play. While basically nobody liked this ruling or agreed with it, it was technically correct.
USGA Rule 26 governs drops when a ball is in a water hazard. Per this rule, a player can replay the shot from “as nearly as possible from the spot from which the original ball was last played.” A player can also go back as far as he’d like keeping the flag and the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard in line.
When Tiger Woods hit his approach into hole 15, his ball caromed off the flagstick and went into the water hazard near the front-left portion of the green. Per Tiger’s post-round comments, he then went back to where he played from, but went 2 yards farther back. When he did this, I tweeted “Whe did TW's ball last cross the margin of the hazard? Near the bleachers. Shouldn't he have dropped on that line, not the line he did?”
Clearly, Tiger could have dropped from his original spot, but admitting that he dropped 2 yards farther back eliminates the “re-hit” drop option from consideration. The only other option he had was to keep the point where the ball last crossed the margin in line with the flag.
As I stated above, the ball bounced off the stick and rolled off the front-left portion of the green and into the hazard. That is the point the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard, and that is the controlling point for the line Tiger needed to take his drop from.
It’s absolutely within the realm of possibility Tiger just assumed his ball crossed the hazard on the line he originally hit it (it did, at first), but that line does not control where you take your drop. Check out the last paragraph of this Rules Decision:
“If a ball last crossed the margin of a water hazard as described in the situation above, it appears that the ball crossed the margin of the hazard three times (e.g., first, the initial time it crossed; second, when it crossed over the hazard onto land; and third, when the ball rolled back into the hazard). So when the Rule states that the ball must be dropped “keeping the point where the ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is to be dropped,” it is referring to the third (final) time. It is the reference point for the 26-1b option only.” From http://www.usga.org/ourexpertsexplain.aspx?id=2147496891
On a day that rules were being enforced, the Officials might want to go have a look at this one.