PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tiger Woods never found his golf ball at the Wells Fargo Championship last week, and received a free drop when it was pointed out a fan picked up the ball. He went on to miss the cut at Quail Hollow by one shot. The rules official decided the evidence did not merit a penalty.
But imagine the outcry if Woods made the cut. Or what if that happened to a player who went on to win the U.S. Open by two shots?
The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass has hosted The Players Championship every year since 1982. The event moved from March to May in 2007.
The details don't make this a clean comparison, but it gave Meg Mallon occasion to recall the bizarre circumstances in the first round of the 2004 U.S. Women's Open.
She was playing the 421-yard fourth hole at The Orchards in the opening round when she pulled her tee shot toward a food compound. When she arrived to where her ball should have been, it wasn't there. Marshals didn't know what happened.
"I said, `What you do mean you don't know where the ball is?'" Mallon said Tuesday.
Her first thought was to go back to the tee, but she called for a rules official when someone in the gallery said someone picked up the ball. The official arrived, talked to people in the gallery and concluded that must have been the case.
"We went to the vicinity of where they thought the fan picked up the ball, and it was a trampled down area," Mallon said. "They gave me a drop, I had to pitch out to the fairway and I hit 7-iron to a foot for my par."
Three days later, Mallon closed with a 65 for a two-shot win over Annika Sorenstam.
But this is where the comparisons differ. No one found Woods' golf ball at the Wells Fargo Championship. The evidence official Mark Russell had when making the ruling pointed toward a stolen ball, and the wide-open area of trampled pine straw (along with the nature of the trees) supported that.
In Mallon's case, there was chatter after her drop about the missing ball, and someone confessed.
"After I hit the shot, a woman heard everyone talking and realized she had done it," Mallon said. "She came up to me and said, `I'm so sorry. I was getting something to eat, when I looked down and there was a golf ball, so I picked it up.'
"She was a nun," Mallon said. "And she was honest."