Friday, 18 January 2013

Tiger Breaches Rule re Embedded Ball

In this new golfing season it did not take long for a tournament Pro to have been penalised for a penalty that he did not realise he had incurred. The surprise is that the player was Tiger Woods, who has a reputation of having a considerably better knowledge of the Rules than most of his fellow Pros.

The breach occurred on the second day of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. On the 5th hole Tiger had hit a wayward drive into an area of sand and brush. He found his ball embedded in sand and asked one of his fellow competitors, Martin Kaymer, to come over and watch as he marked and lifted his ball to check that it was embedded. Kaymer agreed that it was. Woods threw the ball to his caddie for cleaning and then dropped it as near as  possible to the spot where it lay, but not nearer the hole. He then chipped his ball back onto the fairway. Everything would have been fine had the ball not been embedded in sand. Rule 25-2 only permits relief for a ball that is embedded in a closely mown area, but increasingly we see that tournaments adopt a Local Rule that extends this relief to through the green and this was the case in Abu Dhabi. However, the Local Rule, which can be found in Appendix l, Part B, 4, reads as follows;

“Through the green, a ball that is embedded in its own pitch-mark in the ground may be lifted, without penalty, cleaned and dropped as near as possible to where it lay but not nearer the hole. The ball when dropped must first strike a part of the course through the green.
1. A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if the ball is embedded in sand in an area that is not closely mown.
2. A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if interference by anything other than the condition covered by this Local Rule makes the stroke clearly impracticable.

Match play – Loss of hole; Stroke play – Two strokes.”
Apparently, it was a golf writer following the group that asked a rules official about the situation, and the European Tour's Senior Referee, Andy McFee, determined that the ball was indeed embedded in a sandy area, meaning that Tiger was not entitled to relief without penalty. This proved to be critical, because his resulting penalty of two strokes turned a bogey 5 into a triple bogey 7, a round of 73 into a 75, and a two-day total of 145 into 147. He subsequently missed the cut by a single stroke!

There is a two minute video of the incident on the Golf Channel web site (following a short ad), but be warned that you cannot actually see the embedded ball at all. Click on this link if you are interested in the scenario that led to the ruling. However, you can clearly see from the photo above that the area where his drive landed was definitely sandy.

Good golfing,


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Anonymous said...

I wonder:
a) I cannot find these exceptions in the 2008-2011- R&A Rules.
b) the Local Rule mentions (embedded in) sand, not 'sandy aresa', so it is a factual matter.
HG (amsterdam)

Barry Rhodes said...


First, I strongly recommend that you throw away your outdated copy of the Decisions on the Rules of Golf, as it can only cause confusion. Second, I copied the wording of the Local Rule directly from the USGA web site. I can assure you that it is exactly the same reference in the Appendix to the R&A Rules, as the two publications are now completely unified. Check page 127 in the current R&A Rules book.

Third, factually a ball cannot be embedded in sand unless it is a 'sandy area', which I agree was my choice of words. I think that it is obvious from the photo above my blog that the area that Tiger's ball was embedded in only consisted of sand and brush


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your answer.
- You are right of course about the old edition (my 2012 book was outside in my car!)
- I checked Decisions 2010-2011; exception 1 was mentioned (page 557); but -remarkably- not in my old Dutch Rules book. So we did not use a Local Rule with exception 1. In the 2012 edition however the text is up to date (I went to my car to check..).
- McFee's explanation seemed unclear to me. Maybe this is splitting hairs but:
- 'a sandy area' is not a sufficient criterium; the question is whether the ball was'embedded in sand' or not.
- thick bushes on the ground (see other pictures) made it possible that the ball was somehow embedded in them (not directly in sand itself).
- this is factual,and maybe that's why McFee offered Woods to go and see the spot?
- but, possibly the bushes are in any case not relevant, because they are growing in sand? so the ball is embedded on top of it.

Barry Rhodes said...


The 'fact' is that Tiger Wood's ball was embedded in sand and no relief was available under the standard Local Rule for embedded balls through the green that is implemented in most tournament events. Of course, Andy McFee knew that it was embedded in sand before he offered to accompany Tiger tback to the location of the incident, as a courtesy. Tiger also knew that it was, which is why he did not need to accept the offer. It was a simple case of not knowing the Rules, resulting in a costly outcome for the player, his caddie (and the Tournament sponsors).


Brian H said...


You observe in your initial post " Andy McFee determined that the ball was indeed embedded in a sandy area, meaning that TW was not entitled to relief without penalty."

You further note, in response to a subsequent comment by HG, that "Of course Andy McFee knew that it was embedded in sand before he..." etc.,

I want to suggest, with some trepidation, that with the notable and honourable exception of the USGA's own site's comments on this matter, virtually all other commentators have simply misunderstood the crux of the ruling issue.

The crux of the matter is NOT that the ball was embedded in sand. (Let's all agree that it was so embedded).

Rather, the crux of the matter is WHERE it was embedded in sand.

As you note, the LR in effect on the Tour generally, is clearly written in Appendix 1B, 4a, page 556 in the Decisions book.

1. Rule 25-2 'begins' by affording a player relief from an embedded ball in any 'closely mown area' "through the green".

2. The LR EXTENDS the scope of situations where relief becomes available, to 'ANYWHERE through the green".

3. But, Exception 1 to that LR then qualifies and RESTRICTS the term "anywhere through the green" to exclude balls embedded in sand "in an area that is NOT closely mown" ( my emphasis throughout).

If the phrase within Exception 1 ("in an area that is not closely mown") is not to be considered to be superfluous, then we must reason that it is written with the intent of distinguishing between balls embedded " in sand in areas that are not closely mown" and those balls embedded in sand " in an area which is closely mown".

The Embedded in Sand + Closely mown area vs. Embedded in Sand + NOT Closely mown area is, in my opinion, what actually is at the heart of AM's ruling; yet it is precisely THAT distinction which virtually all commentators have failed to highlight and focus upon.

Your own note above " The 'fact' is that TW's ball was embedded in sand and no relief was available under the standard local rule for embedded balls through the green, that is implemented in most tournament events", is TRUE... but itself fails to identify WHY no relief is available and, perhaps, as with other commentators' pieces on this matter, thus leaves the impression that the 'being embedded in sand' was a sufficient condition to exclude relief; it was not! It was necessary, yes, but not sufficient: the fact that the area was not closely mown is the heart of the matter.

Since you may well disagree with me Barry, I would of course love to hear where you may feel I am in error.


KR said...

As per 20-1/0.7 Tiger could have lifted his ball to determine whether he was entitled to relief and if he was not ...then could have replaced it giving his fellow competitors an opportunity to observe this. If he had done that - please confirm that would not be a penalty.

Regards KR

Anonymous said...

I totally accept your statement.
Apart from this, a question remains.
`..the ball does not necessarily have to touch the soil to be considered embedded, e.g. grass or loose impediments may intervene between the ball and the soil.`(D 25-2/0.5.).
Does this not imply the possibility that a ball is embedded without touching the 'sand' ?

Barry Rhodes said...


Whilst everything you say is correct, I think that you are dealing in semantics and I do not agree that my explanation was in any way incomplete, though I certainly agree that many other commentators did get it wrong. In case, anyone has not followed your rationale let me clarify that players may always take relief for a ball that is embedded in sand in the fairway, or other areas cut to fairway length, as per Rule 25-2.

In fact, I read the USGA explanation of the incident that you refer to and thought that it might confuse some readers where it says, "The ball was embedded in the sand, but since the ball was embedded in sand in an area which was not 'closely mown', the Local Rule did not apply." The Local Rule certainly did apply, because the ball was embedded 'through the green', but Exception 1 of the Local Rule meant that no relief was available. Again, this is a matter of semantics, but the sentence did confuse me until I thought about it and realised the point John Van der Borght was trying to make.


Barry Rhodes said...


This is exactly what Tiger did. He marked and lifted his ball in the presence of Martin Kaymer to see if the ball was embedded. They both agreed that it was. However, the point is that it did not matter whether the ball was embedded or not. As soon as Tiger touched his ball he incurred a penalty of one stroke under Rule 18-2a. He should then have replaced his ball where it was in the embedded lie. As he did not the penalty was increased for dropping and playing from the wrong place. There is no relief for a ball that is embedded in sand in an area that is not closely mown, unless there is a Local Rule that permits it (and the Local Rule in operation in this tournament did not because of Exception 1).


Barry Rhodes said...


I suppose that it is possible for a ball to be embedded in an area of sand without touching any sand, but in my opinion it is extremely unlikely. However, this has no relevance to the incident in question. Both Tiger and Martin Kaymer agreed that the ball was embedded in sand.


Anonymous said...

--Seeing the location on film and pictures I see only grass, vegetation etc. 'Extremely unlikely'? Not in my opinion. Also, Tiger is quoted as saying: '..we thought the ball to be embedded." He did not say 'embedded in sand'(contrary to your suggestion)." In fact, only Kaymer and Woods have seen the ball's exact lie. Nobody else. Not even McFee himself.
--Given the actual- widely accepted and not illogical- ruling, it's not useful speculating further. It is a pity that Woods did not make the cut. The extra attention for the rules, in particular the embedded ball, is a good thing.
--Luckily on my homecourse I do not see a spot where a ball could be embedded in grass, weeds or loose impediments, in the middle of a sandy area, not being a hazard.