WM Phoenix Open rules official recalls iconic Tiger Woods boulder ruling in ’99

A die-hard golf fan will never forget Tiger Woods getting help from the gallery at the 1999 WM Phoenix Open to move a boulder — or “loose impediment” — on TPC Scottsdale’s par-5 13th.

Except for maybe Woods and his caddie, Michael “Fluff” Cowan, one person, however, can recall the controversial ruling better than anyone.

That would be Orlando Pope, the rules official that day.

During PGA Tour Live’s opening round coverage of this week’s WM Phoenix Open on ESPN+, Pope gave a firsthand account of the iconic ruling.

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

Woods, of course, pulled his tee shot left and the ball ricocheted off an enormous boulder. With the path to the green blocked by the rock, Woods wondered if decision 23-1/3 could be utilized, which allows “spectators, caddies, fellow competitors, etc., to assist a player in removing a large loose impediment.”

“I think this thing’s just kinda laying here,” Woods told Pope.

“I pull up and I said, ‘Well, what do you mean just laying here?’” Pope recalled.

Pope and Woods then concluded the rock was indeed a loose impediment.

“I said, ‘Well, part of the definition of a loose impediment is it can’t be solidly embedded, so the size doesn’t really matter,” Pope said. “So we just looked around, I think Fluff was his caddie at the time, and he’s just kinda pushing.”

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“[Woods] says, ‘You think I can move it?’ I said ‘Yeah, sure, you can move it,’” Pope said. “Not thinking one iota that he’s even thinking about moving the boulder.”

This wasn’t a pebble, however. It was going to take a collaborative effort to move the boulder. But Woods had no issue finding help.

“I said, ‘You can have all the help you want,’” Pope said. “[Woods] turns back and looks at the crowd and they just start screaming and yelling. And before I knew it they’re running over to move the boulder.”

There was one concern, though. If one of those lucky fans accidentally moved Woods’ ball in the process of relocating the boulder, that would be an issue.

“Since he authorized it, if they’d moved his ball he would have gotten a penalty shot,” Pope said. But [Woods’ playing partner] Rocco Mediate was over there helping keep some of them back so his ball didn’t move. But they moved it, he said ‘that’s not far enough.’ Then they moved it again.”

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

Woods, however, placed third that week, finishing three shots behind Mediate.

Even though Woods didn’t come away with the victory, Pope’s boulder ruling remains one of the most memorable moments in Woods’ legendary career.

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