1999 WM Phoenix Open rules official recalls iconic Tiger Woods boulder ruling

The die-hard golfer will never forget how Tiger Woods was helped by the gallery at the 1999 WM Phoenix Open to move a boulder – or “loose obstacle” – into 13th TPC Scottsdale par-5.

With the possible exception of Woods and his caddy Michael “Pluff” Cowan, one person, however, can remember a controversial decision better than anyone else.

This is Orlando Pope, the spokesman for the rules that day.

During the first round of the PGA Tour Live celebrating this week’s WM Phoenix Open on ESPN+, Pope spoke first-hand about the iconic decision.

“I got a call on the radio for a decision on the 13th with Tiger Woods and I was the closest thing to it,” Pope said.

Woods, of course, teeed to the left, and the ball ricocheted off the huge boulder. With the path to the green blocked by a rock, Woods wondered if a 23-1/3 decision could be used, which allows “spectators, caddies, fellow competitors, etc. to help a player clear a large loose obstruction.”

“I think this thing is just lying there,” Woods told Pope.

“I stopped and said: “Well, what do you mean? just lying here?” Papa recalled.

Pope and Woods then concluded that the stone was indeed a weak obstacle.

“I said, ‘Well, part of the definition of a free obstacle is that it can’t be firmly built in, so size doesn’t really matter,'” Pope said. “So we just looked around, I think Fluff was his caddy at the time and he just pushed a little.”

“[Woods] says, “Do you think I can move it?” I said, “Yeah, sure, you can move it,” Pope said. “I didn’t think one iota that he was even thinking about moving the boulder.”

However, it was not a stone. It took a concerted effort to move the boulder. But Woods had no problem finding help.

“I said, ‘You can get all the help you need,'” Pope said. “[Woods] turns and looks at the crowd and they just start yelling and yelling. And before I knew it, they came running to move the boulder.”

However, there was one concern. If one of these lucky guys accidentally moved Woods’ ball in the process of moving the boulder, it would be a problem.

“Because he sanctioned it, if they moved his ball, he would get a penalty,” Pope said. But [Woods’ playing partner] Rocco Mediate was there helping to keep some of them from moving his ball. But they moved him, he said “that’s not far enough.” Then they rescheduled it again.”

With a clear eye on the green thanks to Pope’s ruling, and also thanks to the help Woods received from the fans, Big Cat reached the green in two and made a birdie in typical Woods fashion.

However, Woods finished third that week, finishing three shots behind Mediat.

Although Woods didn’t walk away with a win, Pope’s bouldering remains one of the most memorable moments of Woods’ storied career.


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