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Another Tiger Drop Debate; Grassy Knoll In Play

Jay Busbee breaks down the latest Tiger Woods ball drop controversy, the third this year (as Bob Harig noted in his story about the situation at 14 tee Sunday at The Players). The Big Lead has about two minutes of the telecast posted.

After watching the recording multiple times, reading the description of the shot and hearing NBC's Mark Rolfing describe it, that at best, playing partner Casey Wittenberg's assertion appears to be a stretch when suggesting where the ball crossed the hazard. As quoted in an unbylined AP notes story:

"He asked me exactly where it crossed," Wittenberg said. "I told him I thought it crossed on the corner of the bunker, right where he took his drop. And it's all good."

I'm guessing Sergio Garcia wouldn't have seen it this way based on the commenters here who could smell trouble right from the get go and also had some wise follow-up observations.

At least based on the blimp shots and the obvious skepticism from Peter Jacobsen and Johnny Miller, the ball would have had to have flown very straight, then hooked hard at the end. It does not take a genius to see by Tiger's reaction and the video, that the hook was immediate, not late as Wittenburg's drop point would require.

As noted in Harig's story, the PGA Tour's position was clear: this was the call of Woods and his playing partner Casey Wittenberg with help from Mark Rolfing of NBC. Since Woods took his eye off the ball by the time it made the purpoted late hook, he could not speak with certainty about where the ball crossed the hazard. The call is Wittenerg's then.

The PGA Tour's Mark Russell, as quoted by Harig:

"They both saw it," Russell said of Woods and Wittenberg. "They're back there with a television commentator [NBC's Mark Rolfing], who basically agreed with them. He said he hit a high hook. The problem is on television, that area looked the same, and they thought he dropped up there where it splashed. He dropped it 60 yards back of that. The players had the view of it."

What caused the doubt for me was this statement by Rolfing speaking of hazard stakes by tees on the fairway side of the lake, no where near where the ball crossed:

"It looked like it was over water at this point, if not before."

"Before" seems to be what the video and screen captures suggest.

Here is the overview photo of the hole as taken from the blimp, which did not appear to move much and had what seems like a very good angle to capture the tee shot's general flight.

Below is the "at this point" Rolfing refers to, which appears to be well right (from the player perspective on the tee) of the entry point detailed in the third photo.

Thanks to all the readers who sent in this YouTube analysis by filmmaker John Ziegler dissecting Tiger's 14th hole tee shot, questionable drop and NBC coverage of the situation.  Now, it should be prefaced by saying this video was put together by a  filmmaker who is devoted to clearing Joe Paterno's name in the Sandusky affair, not exactly a cause for the ages. Still, Ziegler makes some strong points and calls out Rolfing's shift from his original call to supporting the drop location even as Johnny and Peter Jacobsen are so clearly not buying the assertion.

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Reader Comments (120)

Yeah, this blim shot isn't worth a damn since it films the ball from sideways with no land as a reference point
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan
The shot from the blimp was from an angle and thus was skewed. A hook shot seen from the side cannot be used to determine point of entry. Casey, his caddy and the marker all agreed on that point.
The Tiger haters will not accept that.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterStanley Thompson
For Casey to be "sure" that the ball flight grazed the hazard line 200 years away from where he was standing it absolutely idiotic.

No human being has the ability to see the depth of field from that distance and determine the position of an object moving away from them relative to a fixed object ahead of them.

You have to wonder if the Tiger Lovers play much golf. Clearly, none of them are surveyers or engineers.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHole in Three
Here again is the recap - 7 players hit the drink. 6 went back to the teeing area. 1 did not:

Phil Mickelson 1st round: Back to area in front of the tee. 228 yards back. Double Bogey.

Johnson Wagner 2nd round: Back to the tee. 293 yards back. Triple Bogey.

Padraig Harrington 3rd round: Back to area in front of the tee. 271 yards back. Triple Bogey.

Carl Petterson 3rd round: Back to area in front of the tee. 212 yards back. Triple Bogey.

KJ Choi 3rd round: Back to the tee. 273 Yards back. Double Bogey.

Peter Hansen 4th round: Back to the tee. 288 yards back. Quadruple Bogey.

Tiger Woods 4th round: drops 32 yards from splash point. Double Bogey.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHole in Three
Hole in Three,

it is obvious that YOU are the one who doesn't play golf. Otherwise you'd know that the point of entry has to be determinded by the player and his playing partner with help from outside agencies and not by someone on his couch with chips and beer on his belly and a phone in his hand to call the PGA Tour so he can feel a bit better about his life
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRon
Hole in 3 - how did you confirm 7 balls in the water on 14? Damning if true
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean
Sorry Ron, but you and your playing partner are supposed to determine a drop point that "removes any doubt."

Any of us who have played enough organized competitive golf would understand that.

However, drviing around in a cart with a stocked cooler on the back likely removes you from having to understand a whole lot about this game.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHole in Three
hole in 3

gotcha, but how do you know it was 7 balls in total? did you go and check everyone for all 4 rounds or was there an easier way to verify?
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean
I know that none of us hit the ball with the kind of velocity that Tiger hits it but considering the distance from the shore where splashdown occurs, I'm somewhat skeptical that the ball was moving left hard enough to justify that drop. I know that Tiger's actions to determine his drop conform to standards but it just doesn't pass the physics smell test for me.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered Commentercdvilla
Having played this hole over 40+ times and having done that with my tee ball as Tiger did, it is very tough to get an exact location of where the ball crossed the hazard line. That being said he DID in fact check with his playing partner on where to drop his ball and therefore did not break any rules.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterViz
In the mid-2000s John Ziegler also used to be the self-professed Pastor of the First Church of Tiger Woods while running the website Turned into Tiger's biggest hater post-hydrant. For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure Ziegler has some heavily negative bias towards anything Woods does.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterPJ
I also don't understand the certainty that a hook -- even an "early" hook -- could not have crossed the ground before going over to the water line. By definition the ball is moving from right to left. Tiger's ball does not land that far left of the ground. If we take Mark Russell's statement that the drop was 60 yards behind where the ball landed in the water, I can easily see the ball having crossed that point on a right-to-left trajectory. I've hit my share of hooks that started out on the center of the fairway and kept going left and would have last crossed land 60 yards before splashing a few yards into the water. In fact, the notion of a "hook" that only goes over the water there is inconsistent with a ball that only lands a few yards into the water.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeff
At the end of the day Casey has to share in the blame. He couldnt be certain. Didnt ask for help and therefore failed to protect the field.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSean
Just give Casey the number of Hole in Three for next time, so he can guide him to the proper point and protect the field (or maybe just protect the biased point of view a lot of you guys have)
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan
Jeff - it was a "fat, high, balooning shot that headed left" according to Mark Rolfing.

What you are describing is a hard diving rope hook.

Anyways, we are dealing with a player who is tone deaf to the stigma attached with cheating. Bernard Langer was another golfer who had this reputation, but he ignored the whispers. Mark McCumber did a good job of ignoring things for a while as well. Gary Player has always done an exceptional job of blocking out the accusations from people like Tom Watson.

That said, nothing has polarized golf as severly as Tiger Woods has. Short of him committing a capital criminal offence with a smoking gun caught on video, he will always have a legion of defenders - the customs of the game of golf be damned.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaz
He made 6. He made 4 from the tee two other days. No reason to assume he couldn't have done that with his second ball and still made 6.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSmitty
He's certainly becoming a dodgy dropper. Lifetime of giving himself all benefits of all doubts, etc.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterGhillie
I think that Google Earth image at the bottom makes it seem more plausible that he dropped it near the correct location. I still think it's unlikely, though.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim S
Smitty - a refresher:

Four of the other six players who rinsed their ball on 14 and went back to the teeing ground on that hole shot triple bogey or higher.

It looks like it would have been about a 66% chance of Tiger scoring more than a six if he went all the way back. And, Tiger did bogey the hole during the 2nd round.

The 14th was the 2nd hardest hole of the week. It would not have been a gimmee to shot six while hitting his third from the tee box.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaz
just watched the replay on TGC

Mark Rolfing sez "The angle from where I was standing, I could not tell where it crossed..."

05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterDaphne
I think the point is that Tiger gave the benefit of the doubt to himself. Traditionally, golfers give the benefit of the doubt to the field. If you can't be sure (and there's no way he could have been, whether his playing partner "confirmed" his analysis or not), you re-tee. As far out into the water as that ball splashed, it's hard to imagine that it could have crossed land near where Tiger dropped. It just doesn't seem possible.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikeZ
Which brings up the question, where was Rolfing standing? Tiger couldn't tell either. But that was because he couldn't bear to watch splashdown after he realized that even he can't hit a hook-slice with a brand new Nike instead of a range ball that has been hit 3298 times and has no dimples. And who can blame him for that?
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterKLG
Good heavens, the splash point is 25 feet from the shoreline. The overhead shot clearly shows that.

Any golfer who tries argue that it was inside the hazard line at some point on that shot should be roasted.

This reminds me of a number of a**holes from junior & high school golf who pushed the boundaries of the rules to their benefit. I hated those f**kers.
I suppose I haven't played enough organized competitive golf - or any even - to understand certain things but I do read the RoG. Nowhere in 26 or its decisions are the words "removes any doubt". The words "known or virtually certain" do come into play regarding the fact (facts are very important in the rules) of whether or not the ball is actually in the hazard. The framers have, perhaps wisely, not applied strong language regarding where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard. I'm sure they understand enforcing such language would be a fool's errand as this debate seems to prove.

The language of the rules isn't arbitrary. We are probably be wise to avoid suggesting via quoted phrases that they say things they don't.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSeán O'Nuallain
Smitty - he also could have dunked another one of the tee.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterTighthead
The Google Earth image has one problem. The line indicates the line from the tee to the dropping point. The splash point was 60 yards further down which makes the dropping point clearly a very real possibility.

The ball was clearly a really big hook. Now just imagine for a second the ball never crossed the hazard line: How on earth does it only splash 8 yards from shore than? If Tiger hooks his tee shots he usually misses by double digit yards
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan
So he still made double (like Phil did)?
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterMK-A
Sean O - I was not quoting the Rules Of Golf by putting "removes any doubt" in quotation marks - that is just the spirit of what I was taught growing up playing in tournaments and I put it in quotation marks to emphasize the words.

Also, we are getting into semantics here. Is there a difference between "Remove any doubt" and "Virtually certain"? Barely.

Remove any doubt = 100%
Virtually certain = as close as you can reasonable get to 100%

Happy now?
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHole in Three
So a physics question, since the concept has entered the discussion.

Tiger says he hit a high hook. It has been noted by both Tiger and commentators that this was a frequent flaw when he started changing his swing with Foley. Whether he looked away or not, certainly he's sufficiently in tune with his swing to know that he's just done exactly that.

Rolfing's initial call is perfectly consistent with that shot. He doesn't say "dead left" or anything like that, he says "left," but only after the ball has been in the air for a while. In other words, his initial description is not inconsistent with Tiger's.

Wittenberg's description of the shot is also consistent. Neither caddie has contradicted this description.

So, all three people who hit or saw the shot agree about its shape: a high hook.

Now, I realize that none of this will convince anyone who believes that all involved parties are lying about everything, though the motivations for all involved require a lot more conspiracy than I'm comfortable with. But no one (to my knowledge) is actually questioning that the ball was high ("ballooning" in Rolfing's initial call), and that it was hit fat (also in Rolfing's call at the moment). And on the video we can see that the ball is not actually all that far into the hazard when it "lands."

Is it more likely that Tiger hit a high, fat shot that was somehow also a dead straight pull, or that he hit a high, floating hook? I could stand on the range right now and replicate the second with no effort at all. I don't see how you hit the first, and I don't see how it conforms to the laws of physics. Even if you're Tiger Woods. A fat yet straight-flying pull isn't going to be described as "ballooning," by anyone. It can only be the result of a specific swing plane/face position combination, and that shot is never going to be described as "high." It's smothered. It's low. And not one observer thinks the shot was low, unless one claims that Rolfing was lying in real time.

To me, the shot is vastly more likely to be as described by the involved parties.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterTom
Jim S - the Google photo shows "the ball flight that would be necessary to make the drop work" not the actual flight of Tiger's ball.

Why did Tiger look away? Isn't it his job to watch the flight of his ball? What about LaCava? He didn't watch either?

Hole in Three: great analysis!
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterLadyH
@ Jeff,

The ball landed way further out in the water than what it looked like from the first angle shown in the telecast. When they showed the shot and splash from overhead, it was very surprising how far away from the shore it was.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterPress Agent
And anybody that thinks rookie, Whittenburg is going to set the number one player in the world Tiger Woods straight on where his ball crossed the line is delusional. If Tiger says, "hey buddy, did it cross around here?" he's going to say "ya, looks about right to me sir."
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterPress Agent
With regards to my Google image - my point is that TW would have to start his tee shot way off to the right for it to hook as much as it did (confirmed by his reaction and others on TV) and then last cross the hazard where the yellow line ends and thus take a drop. The video which is at an angle pretty much right down the line from TW on the tee shows that ball being hit pretty straight off the tee at the camera, right over the center line of the next tee box up in front of him (another point that the angle is more head on) and already starting to turn left. Left from there is all water. No land. That camera angle is not from the right. If it was you would see more land as the ball comes down to the water. Regardless of this TW may have still won the tourney or maybe not. Nobody knows. But the evidence, the reactions and the physics of this shot make it hard to believe that drop was where it should have been. I do know this though. Having to re-hit a tee shot you have historically struggled with after just dunking one in the water will make anyone nervous about having to make a re-hit. Even TW.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
The Google picture is worthless - his shot started right of his target line (clearly visible in the crane shot), and with that shot shape it's very reasonable to assume that it crossed the water after 170 yards. I'm 99% sure I would have made a similar drop or made the same call as Wittenberg, regardless of who I'd been playing with.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterHawkeye

Very happy. Sun is shining and hopefully playing nine later.

I see a difference between "removes any doubt" and "virtually certain" albeit very minor. Rules guys throw around 99% when speaking of these things. "Removes any doubt" suggests 100% to me. But they are close, absolutely.

However, "known or virtually certain" applies to the fact of the ball being or not being in the hazard which is not part of the debate at hand. I have never read anyone with rules credentials who suggests that the point a ball last crossed the margin of a hazard rises anywhere near that same standard. It simply cannot and that goes double for a hooking or slicing ball. Yes, a player should use his very best analysis and judgement and suggesting Tiger did not is a valid opinion. Suggesting the onus on the player is that he get it so right as to "remove any doubt" is no longer rules discussion.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSeán O'Nuallain
I think when Rolfing says "I could not tell" he is pointedly failing to confirm Tiger's suggestion (backed up by young CW) that the ball crossed a lot of land. I think he means - "I don't want any part of this".
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterSmithy
The ball is *clearly* hooking in the tracking shot from the other end of the hole. Look at the relative movement of the clouds and the ball. It's a high hook, as has always been claimed.

That said, I have no idea if it was a correct drop or not. Since there's no non-angled shot of the ball's position vis-à-vis the ground, it's impossible for a viewer to tell on what line the ball started or where it crossed the hazard. But it *was* high, and it *was* a hook, and all the scenarios that claim otherwise -- despite an overly-determinative parsing of Rolfing's call, and despite all the hypothetical artwork -- are based on fantasy. It's entirely possible that it was overly generous or outright chicanery, and that Wittenberg and his caddie are deliberately lying for Tiger. But it's also possible it was correct. So far there's no visual evidence to the contrary, nor is there any testimony to the contrary.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered CommenterTom
He was intending a low draw, for that the start of the shot is to the right.. He hit a high balloon hook which was assisted by a rght to left wind against the player.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered Commenterweakgrip
Watch how hard his ball is spinning from right to left when it crosses the bushes in front of the blue tees.

Anyone who has hit a hook like that knows there's no way that ball could have crossed the hazard in the distance. Which explains Tiger's reaction.
05.13.2013 | Unregistered Commenterhighside

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