ARDMORE, Pa. — The way it’s going lately, it can’t be a major championship unless someone calls in to report a rules violation.
This time, the USGA talked to the player before he signed his card. And unlike Tiger Woods at the Masters, it turns out Steve Stricker did nothing wrong on the par-3 third hole except for a bad tee shot that led to double bogey.
USGA vice president Thomas O’Toole met with Stricker right after he birdied his last hole for a 1-over 71. O’Toole said a call came in that Stricker improved his lie in an area where he intended to take a penalty drop by walking back and forth on the thick grass.
His tee shot went on the edge of a bunker in the trees short and left of the green. The rules official determined it was not in a bunker, and Stricker took a one-shot penalty for an unplayable lie because a tree got in the way of his swing. With the elevated green, he walked up the hill a few times to see the flag. O’Toole said the viewer suggested Stricker trampled the grass where he was to drop the ball.
“It’s not an intent-based rule,” O’Toole said. “In light of other things, we wanted to review it.”
After meeting with Stricker, it was determined that he did not drop it in the area he was walking, and it was not a violation. Stricker said he was surprised to see O’Toole in the trailer to ask about the drop.
“I had a pine tree in my way, and I was struggling to get the line of my drop,” Stricker said. “I couldn’t see the wicker basket. I dropped it in any area that was not disturbed.”
That wasn’t the only incident from the armchair rules officials. USGA spokesman Joe Goode said there were several calls and emails that Adam Scott grounded his club in the hazard above a small stream on the left side of the fifth fairway. After a review, the USGA said there was no violation.
Two months ago, Woods took an incorrect drop after his ball bounced off the pin at the 15th hole and went into the water in front of the green. Instead of dropping it as near as possible to his previous lie, he went back a few paces to avoid hitting the pin on the fly again. A TV viewer — rules expert David Eger in this case — notified Augusta National. Fred Ridley, the rules and competition chairman at the Masters, didn’t see anything wrong and didn’t talk to Woods before he signed for a 71. Under closer review, and after Woods spoke about what he did, it was determined he did violate the rule and received a two-shot penalty.
Ultimately, Woods wasn’t disqualified for signing an incorrect card because it was deemed a committee error by not talking to Woods.