Justin Rose leads after Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy miss cut

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are leaving the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship early as Englishman Justin Rose sits atop the leaderboard, writes Steve Elling.

ABU DHABI // Martin Kaymer went from interested bystander, to unwitting co-conspirator, to apologist, all in a span of about three hours.

All because his playing partner Tiger Woods hit a wayward shot into a sandy area yesterday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship that resulted in an unwitting penalty that sent the tournament's two top drawing cards home for the weekend.

It was skidmarks in stereo.

In their first starts of 2013, the world No 1 Rory McIlroy shot a second consecutive 75 and missed the cut by four strokes, an outcome that was never in doubt. However, Woods got his weekend legs cut out from under him after the round, when he learned that he was being assessed a two-stroke penalty for a rules gaffe committed on the fifth hole.

Instead of making the cut by a stroke after mounting one of his characteristic back-nine rallies, Woods missed by a stroke at three over.

"It's a shame for everyone," said Kaymer, who played with Woods and McIlroy. "The people here, the tournament, the European Tour. Especially after the way he fought back."

Woods had five birdies in a nine-hole stretch to get back inside the projected cut line, though he was contacted by referee Andy McFee on the 11th hole and told they needed to talk after the round about the possible violation.

Woods shoved his tee shot on the fifth into a sandy area with loose vines and desert vegetation, and the ball came to rest in an indentation. Believing he was entitled to imbedded-ball free drop, Woods called Kaymer over to confirm the notion. There was no question the ball was imbedded.

He just wasn't entitled to free relief. Alistair Tait, a writer with the American magazine Golfweek, said he asked rules official Miguel Vidaor if the drop was permissible.

"I was just raising the question," Tait said.

Initially, no violation was believed to have occurred. However, the chief referee Andy McFee later ruled otherwise and informed Woods during a discussion moments after the round.

"You don't get relief if it's imbedded in the sand," McFee said. "I knew exactly where he was in terms of the tournament. He thought he was doing the right thing at the time."

Woods, through somewhat gritted teeth, took the penalty with remarkable poise.

"Andy says the ball wasn't imbedded because it was a sandy lie," said Woods, who bogeyed four of the first five holes. "It's tough because I didn't get off to a good start, and I got it back."

McIlroy, conversely, didn't. He was three over after seven holes and now faces a four-week stretch before his next start. Hardly the debut people were expecting Monday when he signed a reported nine-figure endorsement deal with Nike.

For all of Woods's record-shattering achievements in the States, the former world No 1 also has a terrific track record of success on this side of the Atlantic. Entering this week, Woods had never missed the cut in 21 regular European Tour events over his career, a figure that does not include the co-sanctioned majors or World Golf Championships events.

There's a first time for everything. A worst time, too. It has been confirmed that Woods received a US$3 million (Dh11m) appearance fee, and his absence is likely to hurt the turnout over the final 36 holes. After a day of huge crowds and perfect weather Friday, tournament officials tried to put the best possible face on the final two days without the game's top duo.

"I'm sure Tiger and Rory are disappointed to exit and would've wanted to be chasing the Falcon Trophy going down the final stretch on Sunday," said Faisal Al Sheikh of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, which stages the event. "There are no certainties in sport, golf included."

One certainty, after the second round, is that Woods and McIlroy are done.

"I fought hard," Woods said. "I battled back and got it to where I thought I could play the weekend, and thought I might have a chance [to win], just post two low rounds.

"But I won't be able to do that."

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