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Embedded Ball In Sand Costs Tiger Woods

Posted: 1/18/2013

Why was Tiger Woods penalized two strokes for an embedded ball in the sand during the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship?

Sand and the Rules of Golf again made headlines on Jan. 18 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.  Last year, Rory McIlroy had a run-in with sand on his line of play which cost him a penalty of two strokes (to read about that, click here). During the second round of this year’s championship, Tiger Woods incurred a two-stroke penalty on the fifth hole for mistakenly taking relief when his ball was embedded in a sandy area off the fairway.

Rule 25-2 (Embedded Ball) entitles a player to relief from a ball which is embedded in its own pitch-mark in a closely mown area through the green. The Rules of Golf consider “closely mown” to mean “any area of the course … cut to fairway height or less.” The Rules of Golf include a Local Rule found in Appendix I that is used by most tours and courses around the world, including the European Tour which sanctions the Abu Dhabi event. This Local Rule extends relief for balls embedded in their own pitch to all other areas through the green, but it includes two exceptions. Unfortunately Woods’ situation was covered by the first exception.  The wording of this Local Rule is 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.

  • Exceptions:
  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.

Woods’ ball had come to rest in an area of sand behind some low bushes. 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. And by taking relief, he incurred a two-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2a for moving his ball in play and failing to replace it.

Had Woods consulted with an official before proceeding on his own, he would have been informed that while relief could not be taken under the Local Rule, he had two options: play the ball as it lay without penalty or declare it unplayable and taken relief with a one-stroke penalty.

A European Tour referee informed Woods of the infraction on the 11th hole. He then birdied three holes to get back to the cut line, but a bogey on the 17th hole left him one stroke off the cut.


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