This past weekend we covered the problem Tiger Woods had when he took an improper drop from an embedded ball. That drop, which he thought was a free drop without penalty, cost him two strokes and knocked him above the cut line, sending him back home for the weekend from Abu Dhabi. How can players and caddies at that high level miss a rules issue like this? One has to wonder.
Players are allowed a free drop from an embedded ball in specific situations. First it must be determined if the ball is embedded. This can be a judgement call. In the photo here, this ball is most certainly embedded. The ball also must be determined to be embedded in its own pitch mark.
Once you've determined that the ball is in fact embedded, look around and determine if the area is a one which is legal and entitles the drop. Rule 25-2 in the USGA rules states that the embedded ball must be in a "closely-mown" area through the green. This basically means fairway and/or in line with the green.
Tiger's drop was not in the fairway. He was off the fairway in what was determined as a "sandy area" which was not closely mown. Therefore his drop was not proper and that is why he was penalized two strokes.
Here's the USGA's embedded ball rule:
Embedded Ball Rule
Q. On what part of the course is a player entitled to relief from an embedded ball?
A. Under Rule 25-2, a player may only take relief from a ball that is embedded in a closely-mown area through the green. A closely-mown area is any area that is mowed to fairway height or less. However, the Committee may adopt a Local Rule that allows for relief from an embedded ball anywhere through the green. This Local Rule can be found in Appendix I; Part B.
It is also important to note that as mentioned above, the Committee may determine that course conditions allow for the embedded ball rule to be in effect anywhere, such as conditions where the course is very wet.
Knowing the rules can save you strokes and prevent costly mistakes like the one Tiger made this week. It isn't possible for the average golfer to know every rule, so it is a great idea to carry a portable version of the rules of golf in one's golf bag to refer to if there's a question. In the event that it is not known how to proceed in a certain situation, play two balls out and check with your pro or refer to the rules after the round.