Sunday, 15 March 2009

Tiger’s 2,000 Pound Loose Impediment

I was surprised to hear that it is now over 10 years since the most talked-about ruling in the history of golf. The incident is still fresh in my mind, and it seems in the minds of thousands of other golfers as it continues to rouse passionate opinions, mainly against the beneficiary of the ruling, one Tiger Woods.

Playing the par-five 13th hole, during the final round of the PGA Tour event held at the TPC at Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, Arizona, Tiger pulled his tee shot into the desert to the left of the fairway and his ball came to rest about a yard behind a large boulder that was directly on his line of play to the green.

Tiger asked
the Rules Official accompanying his group if he agreed that the boulder, estimated to weigh around a ton, was a loose impediment. The Definition of Loose Impediment in the Rules of Golf includes these words;

"Loose impediments are natural objects including:
* stones, leaves, twigs, branches and the like,
* dung, and
* worms, i
nsects and the like, and the casts and heaps made by them,
provided they are not:
* fixed or growing,
* solidly embedded, or
* adhering to the ball.”

The Rules Official correctly ruled that the boulder was a large natural stone that was not solidly embedded, thus fulfilling the requirement of the definition of loose impediments. Tiger then asked a number of spectators if they would assist him in moving this abnormally large loose impediment. Naturally, there was no shortage of volunteers and about 10 of them successfully rolled the boulder out of his line of play. In true Tiger fashion he took advantage of their hard work by making a birdie 4 on the hole.

After the event there were, and still are, a lot of detractors who felt that Tiger received a favourable ruling because of who he was. However, there were two relevant Decisions in the book long before this situation occurred;

23-1/2 Large Stone Removable Only with Much Effort
Q. A player’s ball lies in the rough directly behind a loose stone the size of a watermelon. The stone can be removed only with much effort. Is it a loose impediment which may be removed?
A. Yes. Stones of any size (not solidly embedded) are loose impediments and may be removed, provided removal does not und
uly delay play (Rule 6-7).

23-1/3 Assistance in Removing Large Loose Impediment
Q. May spectators, caddies, fellow-competitors, etc., assist a player in removing a large loose impediment?
A. Yes.

An interesting sequel to this most talked about ruling in the history of golf is that although the boulder was removed from its original location on the left side of the 13th hole for a time after the tournament, it has since been replaced to its original spot, with a plaque commemorating the ruling.

Good golfing,

Barry Rhodes

Assisting golfers of all capabilities to improve their understanding of the Rules of Golf.


Anonymous said...

I still feel to this day that there is no way a one ton stone could be ruled a loose impediment or not embedded. That stone was a featrue of the course, not an object there accidently. Tiger did receive a favorable ruling, but of course, most rules officials bend over backward to interpret a rule in any pro's favor.

Unknown said...

Anonymous can't read very well. If he could, he would have seen the above references which clearly outline that the ruling was absolutely correct. Such a situation was directly addressed in the rules and regulations. It doesn't matter how large the stone is, if it isn't fixed in place, it is a loose impediment.

Yak28P said...

60feet6inches is correct only insofar as a strict interpretation of the rule. However, the term "fixed" is not defined, nor is an example given. However, embed is defined as "to fix firmly in a surrounding mass". It is clear that the boulder was fixed firmly in a surrounding mass and was, therefore, embedded and not a loose impediment. Further, to be a loose impediment it must be natural. I rather doubt that the boulder had always been there. Thus it is not "natural" but rather artificially placed; or in other words, man-made.

Let's face it, if Joe Blow had hit his shot behind the boulder, he would have had his next shot from behind the boulder. Golf is a game of personal honor. Woods used a rules interpretation loophole to evade the consequences of his errant shot. As a result, Woods showed to the world what he thought of personal honor.

Barry Rhodes said...


You are entitled to your opinion, but I side with the R&A, USGA, and most Rules experts that I have discussed this situation with.

As for Tiger Woods, I wish that all golfers had as good an understanding of the Rules as he does. On this occasion he correctly interpreted the Rules to potentially save himself one or more strokes. Others can and have learned from this high-profile incident.


Barge Arse said...


Perhaps a scientific defintion is needed? Geologists will refer to an outcrop of rock as being 'in situ' i.e. the outcrop is clearly attached/belongs to the local country rock. It is an extremely important concept for them, espesically if you are discussing fossil or mineral provenance. Rocks that are not 'in situ' can be, for example, sediment or boulders that has come down from neighbouring hills or been deposited via glaciation, flood or mass wastage. Tiger's boulder is clearly not 'in situ'!

Unknown said...

It is quite obvious that The rule permitted Tiger to have the rock removed if he so wished or could. What is less discussed or moot is that he obtained the services of outside agencies who were ready and able to as he desired. We all know that Tiger had an army of supporters that followed his every shot. Shouldn't the Rules address the limitations of how outside agencies can or can't, assist, players in their play of a round of golf?

Barry Rhodes said...


In my opinion, this would add another unnecessary complexity to Rule 23-1. How would you limit the size of loose impediment that it is permissable to remove? If the Rule said that it had to be moved by the player without assistance, this could disadavantage ladies, small men, seniors, players with back problems, etc. The situation of large movable loose impediments happens infrequently and so my oipnion is that the Rule, which is very clear, should be left as it is.


lairdog said...

Tiger uses the rules to benefit, and he obviously takes advantage of the situation because of the money he brings to each tournament. The USGA and the media loved the presence of Tiger, but the golfer who 'plays the ball where it lies' will never respect Tiger for what he did at Phoenix that day. That boulder was part of the course architecture, not a stone, branch, or bird droppings. Tiger has been given more opportunities than any golfer in the history of golf, including finding his ball on the clubhouse roof and getting a free drop. I've played this game for over fifty years, and on every course I ever played, the clubhouse, the parking lot, etc. is always OB...HELLO !!!
Or let's talk of the drop on, I think on 11 at the Masters...disqualifier...but not Tiger, the officials let him make the appropriate change on the scorecard. And when asked why he dropped two feet away from the original mark, he said, I had a better angle at the flag". Sorry to say, but Tiger doesn't respect the rules of golf !!!
So my question, If Tiger put a towel down, as Craig Stadler did, would he have ever been disqualified (for marking an incorrect scorecard)? Never had respect for Tigar after managing to bring five or six guys on the course...hell, if I cross the ropes Tiger would have me escorted off the course !!!

Barry Rhodes said...


The short answer to your question is, yes, Tiger certainly would have been disqualified for a breach of Rule 13-3, building a stance. Regarding the other points that you have raised they have already been addressed in great detail by many more authoritive sources than me. However, I will make the point that, unlike the majority of professional golfers, Tiger Woods has bothered to learn and understand the Rules of Golf, which enables him to take advantage of them when appropriate.