All the drama took place before anyone teed it up at the Masters on Saturday.
Once play got under way, the world’s best golfers put on a clinic on how to finish at Augusta National.
In summary: Tiger Woods lived to play another day while Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera wrested the leader board away from Jason Day.
First, the controversy.
Saturday morning, Woods was called in to meet with the rules committee to go over his drop Friday on No. 15. In a television interview Friday evening, Woods had pointed out he had purposefully taken his drop two yards behind his original ball placement.
That it was a violation meriting a penalty was not at issue. Rather, the severity was at stake. Woods had given himself a one-stroke penalty when it should have been a two-stroke miscue.
Tournament officials had missed the fact Woods had misplaced the drop. When alerted to the mistake by a television viewer, officials quickly reviewed the video while Woods was on No. 18, then deemed he had placed the drop in the proper spot.
Moments later, Woods went on television and spoke of how he purposely had not returned to the original spot in order to gain a better position for his penalty shot.
Saturday morning, officials met with Woods, reviewed the video again, and determined Woods had signed an improper scorecard but it was the fault of the officials for not telling him it was incorrect. He was assessed an additional two-stroke penalty under rule 33-7, a broad guideline that allows committees to make exceptions to the iron-clad punishment of disqualification.
Rule 33-7 states, “A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.”
Fred Ridley, chairman of the competition committee explained why he thought 33-7 applied.
“Because we had initially made that determination … that he, in fact, had not violated the rule and that we had elected to make that decision, had not spoken to him, that under Rule 33 7 that there was ample reason not to impose the penalty of disqualification but to waive that penalty and impose a two shot penalty.”
There was an immediate outcry that 33-7 was misapplied and Woods should have been disqualified after Woods had admitted to purposefully trying to improve his position. CBS analyst Nick Faldo said Woods should withdraw, but quickly backed off the stance. David Duval took to Twitter to say, “I think he should WD. He took a drop to gain an advantage.”
“Under the rules of golf, I can play. I was able to go out there and compete and play,” Woods said. “If it was done a year or two ago, whatever, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to play. But the rules have changed, and under the rules of golf, I was able to play.”
Woods went on to card a 70 on Saturday and is 3-under par for the tournament. It was another instance of Woods overshadowing other, more impressive performances.
Snedeker — the world’s No. 2 golfer behind Woods — surged into the lead at 7-under par with a scintillating performance on the back nine holes. He began his round with 12 consecutive pars before tallying birdies on three of the final six holes.
“I was able to kind of get lucky a few times and miss the ball in the right spots,” Snedeker said. “This golf course is just waiting to make you pay for a bad shot, and I did a good job of managing my game today.”
Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion who torched the last six holes of his Friday round to the tune of four birdies, nabbed two more during his final three holes on Saturday to track down Snedeker. Heading into today’s final round, he said his comfort level is much greater than it was in 2009.
“In 2009, I was nervous, anxious,” he said. “But now I’m very comfortable. I know what I’ve got to do tomorrow to get the win.”
Like Snedeker, Day began the day with 12 consecutive pars before a birdie on the par-3 No. 13. He gave it back — and then some — with consecutive bogeys on the final two holes to finish at 5-under. He was passed by fellow Australian Adam Scott, who fired a round of 69 to get to 6-under.
Marc Leishman also is at 5-under, followed by Matt Kuchar at 4-under.