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Pros debate Tiger Woods' 'joke' penalty

Farrell Evans | ESPN.com
April 14, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
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"I think [Tiger] should WD. He took a drop to gain an advantage."

This is the simple and direct message former world No. 1 and Open Championship winner David Duval sent in a tweet Saturday morning as the world woke to the news that Tiger Woods had made an illegal drop Friday afternoon at the par-five 15th hole.

Long after the completion of the 77th Masters, the tournament rules committee's decision to grant the 14-time major champion a two-stroke penalty rather than disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard will be an endless source of debate.

Off this week after playing four PGA Tour events in a row, Bob Estes, an eight-time Masters participant, took it upon himself to give the Twitter universe a lesson in the rules of golf. The gist of it, lamented the 47-year-old, is that Tiger violated Rule 26-1a.

It's pretty clear from the video and what Tiger told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi after his round on Friday that he had no intentions to drop the ball "as nearly as possible to spot" where he hit his last shot, as the rule states.

Nick Faldo, a three-time Masters champion, called on Tiger to do the "manly" thing and disqualify himself from the tournament.

"He should really sit down and think about this and the mark this will leave on his career, his legacy, everything," Faldo said, speaking on the Golf Channel. "He should really sit quietly with whoever he trusts, [longtime agent] Mark Steinberg, a few others, maybe Lindsey [Vonn, his girlfriend], as well, and sit and just go, 'Wow, I would be doing the manly thing to go. I have broken the rules of golf."

LPGA player Angela Stanford put it more playfully. "If I tell a rules official I wanted two more yards, I'm on my way to Dairy Queen for a blizzard," she said on Twitter, referring to being DQ'd.

Shane Lowry, the 26-year-old Irishman who upset Rory McIlroy in the first round of the Accenture Match Play in February, was more direct. "This is a joke," he said on Twitter. "In my opinion anyone else would have been DQ'd. When you sign for the wrong score that's what's supposed to happen."

Hunter Mahan was supportive of the decision. "I like this ruling because he took an illegal drop but no official brought it to his attention," Mahan tweeted.

Tiger's old teacher, Hank Haney, posed perhaps the best question on Twitter. "What if Tiger comes back to win and eventually ends his career with 19 major victories?"

In the end, Tiger was saved by Rule 33, a provision that allows the rules committee to make a decision at their discretion in unique circumstances. But as PGA Tour pro Stuart Appleby put it, the rule was not "intended for the ignorance of a rule."

Tiger plays on at the discretion of the Masters rules committee. "We all live with the committee decision now," Duval said on Twitter. "Time to move on."

We aren't likely to ever move on from this. Whoever wins this week will have won the Masters best known for the time Tiger got a big break on a rules violation. If the 77-time PGA Tour winner goes on to win his 15th major championship, the victory will be tainted by this rules decision. And it could overshadow all his other great victories.

Pete Rose got more base hits than any other player in major league history, but to many he's the guy who bet on baseball. Tiger might not share Rose's fate, but Woods' decision to play on this week likely will follow him for the remainder of his career.

He might clear his conscience, but a very robust and agile social media will keep the debate going each time he tees it up in a tournament. Tiger's extramarital affairs were private. But this goes to the integrity of the game, so it's in the public domain.

This new phase in his playing career could be far harsher than anything he faced during that difficult period in his life in late 2009 and early 2010.

Still, as the conversation over his drop continues on Twitter and wherever else people are talking about golf and issues of ethics, Tiger will make his way around Augusta National this weekend in pursuit of his 15th major championship. The rules committee has spoken, but the fight has just begun.

Farrell Evans is the senior golf writer for ESPN.com. This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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