The story behind Els' shot from the water hazard Thursday at the Masters

Ernie Els
USA Today Images
Ernie Els stands in Rae's Creek near the 13th green Thursday while discussing his options with a rules official.
By Mark Aumann

Series: PGA Tour

Published: Thursday, April 10, 2014 | 7:35 p.m.

You may have seen Ernie Els’ shot from Rae’s Creek near the green on the par-5 13th hole on Thursday during first-round action from the Masters and wondered about the golf rules involved in his decision on how and why he played it.

For Els, the decision to play out of the creek paid off -- he made par on the hole. To that point, Els was already 2 over for the day and likely didn't want to give anymore shots back to par, especially on No. 13. On Thursday, the 13th hole played as the second-easiest at Augusta National with a cumulative scoring average of 4.7133 and yielded more birdies -- 41 -- than any other hole on the course.

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It could be argued that, while risky, Els saved his round with that par. Instead of a disaster, he walked away unscathed and eventually carded a 3-over 75 that left him tied for 53rd and seven strokes behind first-round leader Bill Haas. Sure, Els still has work to do on Friday to get back in contention, but he could have been completely out of it if his shot from the water on 13 didn't work out on Thursday.

Is it the smartest shot in golf to hit? Probably not. But for the world's best players, there are only four opportunities a year to win a major and that's likely the mindset Els had when he made the decision.

You may find yourself in a similar situation on the course someday, and it never hurts to know exactly what your options are, especially when there's a hefty penalty for doing it incorrectly.

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We asked Tom Carpus, vice-chairman of the PGA of America Rules Committee, who is at Augusta National Golf Club this weekend for an explanation, and here’s what he had to say:

 "Els hit his second shot into a tributary of Rae's Creek on hole 13 and, rather than dropping a ball under penalty of one stroke, he decided to play the ball from within the water hazard. Keep in mind that in playing this ball, Els could not touch the ground or water in the water hazard with his club or hand prior to the stroke or, during the backswing for the stroke. He also was prohibited from touching or moving any loose impediments lying in the hazard prior to the stroke or during his backswing for the stroke. He played his third stroke and the ball came to rest on the grass bank, but inside the hazard. As he climbed up the bank to reach his ball, the prohibitions above were still applicable and he was very careful not to violate the Rules. See Rule 13-4 for more information.”

Here’s the description of Rule 13-4 from the USGA rulebook:

“Except as provided in the Rules, before making a stroke at a ball that is in a hazard (whether a bunker or a water hazard) or that, having been lifted from a hazard, may be dropped or placed in the hazard, the player must not:

a. Test the condition of the hazard or any similar hazard;

b. Touch the ground in the hazard or water in the water hazard with his hand or a club; or

c. Touch or move a loose impediment lying in or touching the hazard."