Tiger Woods missing a cut anywhere in the world is enough to stop the presses. But when a brain cramp over a rules issue knocks the world’s second-best golfer out of the game -- the first European Tour event in which he’s ever carded an MC -- that’s just a head-scratcher.
Woods, along with new Nike teammate Rory McIlroy, had their work weeks cut short Friday after a two-stroke penalty during the second round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship left Woods a shot shy of playing over the weekend. McIlroy, for his part, played woefully with his new Swoosh-emblazoned gear, carding consecutive 75s to finish well off the cut line of 146. The two-time world champ bore no resemblance to the golfer who in 2012 won five times worldwide, earned the PGA and European Tour money titles, and cemented his stature as the world’s top player.
For Woods, even a fierce back-nine rally was not enough to keep the former No. 1 in the field after he took an illegal drop on the fifth hole from what he and playing partner Martin Kaymer determined was an embedded lie.
Playing alongside McIlroy and Kaymer, Woods hit his ball wide right into some tangled vines growing in a sandy waste area between the fifth and sixth fairways. He discovered the ball was plugged and called Kaymer over for a consultation.
After Kaymer concurred with Woods’ assessment that he was allowed to take relief without penalty, Tiger punched the ball back to the fairway and carded a bogey. Or so he believed.
Unfortunately for Woods, the bogey turned into a triple after two spectators informed officials about the incident. After reviewing the area in question, European Tour chief referee Andy McFee decided that Woods had incurred a two-stroke penalty for breaching Rule 25-2, which allows relief through the green but not when balls are embedded in sandy areas.
McFee informed the golfer of the situation as Woods left the 11th tee.
"They ruled I committed an infraction," said Woods, who declined to revisit the scene of the mishap and did not dispute the decision. "Consequently I was given a two-shot penalty."
McFee explained the ruling to Woods after the round.
"It is very specific," he said. "It only applies to [mowed] ground, not in a sandy area."
To make the situation even more bizarre, the “spectators” who alerted officials were not your typical looky-loos watching TV from their recliners, but two reporters following the threesome around the course.
Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard identified himself and Golfweek’s Alistair Tait as the accidental whistle-blowers.
“I was live-tweeting and live-reporting the event on Twitter,” Hoggard said on his network after the round. “I just needed to find out if [Woods] took a free drop or if he was penalized for that drop, simply for the reporting purposes.
“I’m not sure what happened with Alistair after I walked away,” Hoggard added, “but I know while I was standing there neither one of us asked the tour rules officials to review this. We were just trying to get clarification for reporting purposes.”
In any case, instead of finishing with a 1-over 73, Woods signed for a triple-bogey 7 on No. 5 and a second-round 75, which landed him one stroke over the cut line.
It was Woods’ first early exit in 21 Euro Tour starts.
"It's tough because I didn't get off to a very good start, but I battled back," said Woods, who bogeyed three of the first four holes in his second round. "It wasn't enough."
Woods did not explain why he declined to call for a referee’s ruling before taking a drop on the fifth hole. Perhaps even more surprising was the ignorance of the rule that all three veterans in the group displayed.
“I didn’t know about [the rule]. He didn’t know about it, otherwise he wouldn’t have done it,” said Kaymer.
"I didn't know the rule either,” added McIlroy, who reportedly received part of a rumored $4 million appearance fee he and Woods earned just for showing up. “Tough for the tournament.”
It was certainly not the way Woods or McIlroy had hoped to kick off their 2013 seasons. Woods was heartened about his play down the stretch, during which he holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 14th, knocked in a 12-footer for another birdie on the par-3 15th, and made it three in a row at the par-4 14th after driving the left fairway bunker and blasting out to within 20 feet of the cup.
He hoped to take that momentum into next week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he’ll make his first PGA Tour start of the season.
For McIlroy, however, with a four-week break looming, it was back to the practice range to try to tame his wayward Covert driver (12 of 28 fairways hit in regulation over 36 holes). He also had to decide whether to stick with his old faithful putter, a Titleist Scotty Cameron, which he put back in his bag after an unsuccessful outing on Thursday with his new Nike Method.
McIlroy needed 31 putts with the Nike flat stick and fared not much better with the Scotty Cameron, as he finished with 30 strokes on the greens on Friday.
Despite his poor showing, McIlroy, who came out Monday as a Swoosh athlete in a glitzy celebration usually reserved for rock stars, refused to blame his gear.
"It's the first week out, I wouldn't look too much into that [the change of equipment],” he told Sky Sports. “If anything, it's more the Indian than the arrow at this point."