Although the subject has been beaten into the ground, and a number of people have suffered for their actions and views of what happened, here it is again. In the April 7th issue of Sports Illustrated, Alan Shipnuck offers a comprehensive post-mortem on Tiger's now infamous improper drop on the 15th hole of the second round.
I certainly won't claim to be a rules expert, let alone attempt to explain the details of the ruling, but there are several things that seem pretty clear to me.
First: I have no idea what was going through Tiger's mind at the time, but he's played enough golf to know that "as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played" (Rule 26-1) means just that, not two yards back to give himself a more favorable yardage. Brain fart? Probably, but why didn't his caddie, Joe LaCava, who has been around the block a few times, step up? Joe stayed with the bag at the site of the original shot while Tiger walked forward to assess his options. He too, had to know that going back two yards was wrong
Next, what in the world was Fred Ridley thinking? He was alerted and saw the replay. He knew by then that it was questionable. Why did he not consult with the player before he signed his card, which is, as should be, SOP in such a situation, particularly in the highest profile tournament in golf and with the highest profile player in the game? A subplot question, which Shipnuck raises again: Was Ridley influenced by the fact that he and David Eger, who he knew was the originator of the question, have a history? (To put it politely. In a Golf Digest interview later that year, Eger stated "In my view, Ridley's knowledge of The Rules of Golf was, and is, suspect." OUCH!")
Finally, numerous commentators have made the point that it was probably a good thing for Tiger from the standpoint of his legacy that he didn't go on to win, since many would have viewed such a victory as tainted. I am not Tiger's biggest fan, but I'm not sure I completely agree. He did make a mistake, but he was exonerated by the rules committee and allowed to continue. While he probably would have earned even more admiration had he stepped up and withdrawn, he did what he was allowed to do. However, this comes close to blurring the line between golf and the ethic that prevails in pretty much any other professional sport: That you do what you have to do and whatever you can get away with. If it's called, fine, but if it's not, great.
As an aside, two days ago Tiger announced he would not play in the 2014 Masters, and for some time afterwards, due to his back issue and subsequent surgery. Numerous pros have tweeted their support and their wish that he get back to competition as soon as possible. I'm wondering if one will say what they're all probably thinking: Don't mean to wish back surgery on anyone, but, hey, my own chances just went up a whole bunch!