AUGUSTA, Ga. -- You probably think one of two things about Tiger Woods right now. (1) He was the beneficiary of an embarrassing bungling of a rules situation by the Masters tournament committee and therefore had every right to play in the third round of the 77th Masters. Or (2) He should have quietly resigned from this competition out of respect for the integrity and spirit of the game.
But ask yourself this question: If you were Tiger Woods, what would you have done? Hold on a minute. Think before you answer. You didn't knowingly break a rule, even if it's a rule you should have known. You took your two-stroke penance. And the green jackets gave you their blessing. Would you have disqualified yourself? If your answer is still yes, ask yourself the same question, but now pretend you are John Peterson. You've probably never heard of John Peterson, but he, too, played in the third round of the 2013 Masters. He's a 23-year-old Masters rookie by way of Fort Worth, Texas, who started the day at 4-over-par, 10 strokes off the lead -- a no-name with no chance. What if you're John Peterson and you faced the same conundrum as Woods?
Would that change your answer?
Should that change your answer?
Woods played. And he played quite well. You probably know that by now, too. He shot a 2-under 70 to move him to 3-under-par though 54 holes, just four off the pace. Without that two-stroke penalty, he'd be just two back. Still, he's in range. A threat. Lurking. Hell, he could still win this thing -- and what then?! But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Woods rolled up Magnolia Lane in a black SUV just before noon on Saturday. That was probably the first, best indication that he would not lay down his arms in this 2013 Masters, though those close to Woods knew of his decision earlier. Early Saturday morning, Woods received a text from his manager Mark Steinberg, requesting that Woods call him.
"It's never a good thing when that happens," Woods said later, cracking himself up.
Steinberg informed Woods of the rules snafu, and Woods subsequently called Fred Ridley, the Masters competition committee chairman, who asked to meet with Woods to discuss the situation further. That happened at about 8 a.m.
"Tiger was very forthright in his comments and his answers to questions that we had," Ridley said in a press conference Saturday morning. "I told Tiger that in light of that information that we felt that he had, in fact, violated Rule 26 under the Rules of Golf and that he was going to have to be penalized."
Woods accepted his wrist-slap and went on his way. By the time he released a statement to his 3.1 million Twitter followers -- I didn't know I had taken an incorrect drop prior to signing my scorecard. ... I understand and accept the penalty and respect the Committees' decision -- Woods was banging one-handed putts on the practice green.
By 1 p.m. he had shifted to the practice range, setting up shop four spots down from Rory McIlroy. The range was busy but those four spaces remained open, as if no player dared disturb the peace of the world's top two-ranked golfers. Woods had no interaction with McIlroy, or any other player, or even his swing coach Sean Foley, who was engaged with another of his charges, Justin Rose, further down the range.
At 1:45 p.m., Woods was on the first tee, a 3-wood in hand, a chorus of support around him. He took three practice swings, then drilled a drive up the heart of the fairway. He knocked his approach to 6 feet and made birdie, erasing half of the strokes that his illegal drop had cost him. Woods picked up another shot after a nifty approach at the par-4 7th, but with bogeys at 4 and 9 he was back where he started though nine holes: 1-under for the tournament.
It was difficult to tell how many patrons actually knew of Woods's tenuous morning. Surely word spread across Augusta's rolling fairways, but without access to smartphones and tablets, at least a couple of randomly surveyed attendees were oblivious to the firestorm Woods's rules quandary had triggered on social media and beyond. Still, the spot of Woods's now-infamous drop clearly caught the gaze of more than a few patrons as they streamed through the crosswalk on the 15th fairway on Saturday afternoon.
"Over there?" said a woman in a yellow Masters visor.
"Yes, about there," a gallery guard chimed in.
Surely, that patch of turf isn't worthy of a plaque -- hey, if Bubba didn't get one ... -- but rest assured it will go down in Masters lore, nonetheless.
The first thunderous Tiger roar on the outward nine came at the 12th, where Woods floated his tee shot to 18 feet and drained the putt for a deuce. When he drove his ball into the pine straw at 13, but still managed another birdie, care of a nifty sand save, that familiar feeling began to envelop Augusta National: Tiger was mounting a charge, albeit a slow-moving one.
Trevor Immelman, who was playing three groups ahead of Woods's, had been put on the clock. The 2008 Masters champion was choking up play, which led rules domo John Paramor to not only issue Immelman a warning but to also encourage the pairings behind Immelman to keep up. Woods's pep talk -- it was not an official warning -- came after he hit his tee shot on No. 14. The World No. 1 strolled purposefully up the fairway toward Paramor, who was motioning with hands and trying to get Woods's attention. Woods never broke his stride, blowing right by the husky rules official. Had he not even acknowledged Paramor?
"No, he's like that," Paramor said with a knowing smile.
Across at No. 15, thousands packed the grandstands, awaiting Woods as he prepared to return to the scene of his crime. But there would be no drop on Saturday, just a gorgeous, soaring 5-iron from the top of the hill that crested near the end of its flight and settled on the front of the green, less than 10 feet from the hole. He missed the putt but cleaned up for his birdie before closing with three pars for a two-under 70.
It was three strokes better than his second-round effort -- well, just one stroke, really, if you excuse the penalty strokes. And he's just four back with 18 to play. But the press didn't want to talk about that. Woods was asked seven questions in his post-round scrum with the writers, and all seven related to his rules flap.
Somebody asked about the "TV guys" who earlier today were urging Woods to disqualify himself. What, the reporter wanted to know, did Woods make of that?
"I don't know," Woods said. "Under the Rules of Golf, I can play. I was able to go out there and compete and play."
So that's exactly what he did.
And you? What would you have done?