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Russell said if the area had been heavily populated with bushes or thick pine straw, it might have been a different ruling. But because it was such an open, barren area and there were spectators who saw it land and bounce not too far away, there was only one conclusion.

“I’m thinking all the time, `If you can’t find the ball, the ball is lost.’ But based on the evidence we had, somebody must have picked the ball up,” Russell said. “Very unusual situation, but based on all the evidence and the situation it was, looked like to me somebody … where else could the ball have been?”

He got no argument from Geoff Ogilvy, who was playing with Woods and was near the green when he hit his second shot from the fairway. Ogilvy said he saw the ball drop from the trees, though he never saw it hit the ground because it was behind the spectators.

“It got picked up for sure. There can’t be any doubt,” Ogilvy said. “I guess there’s a chance it could roll under the pine straw, but not when 500 people are there looking for it. Usually, Tiger’s ball, they all circle around and stare at the ball. And it was gone.”

It was bizarre, indeed, though Ogilvy said he would be surprised if that were the first time Woods‘ ball vanished.

“That’s a pretty good souvenir for people, I’d imagine,” he said.

It was reminiscent of the Bridgestone Invitational in 2006, when Woods hit a shot over the ninth green at Firestone. It hit the cart path, went onto the roof of the clubhouse and was never found. Turns out a member of the kitchen staff who was delivering pies saw a ball bouncing near his cart. He thought someone threw it at him as a prank and drove off with it. Woods was given free relief because it was not out of bounds.

The biggest difference between those incidents? Woods went on to win at Firestone.

This time, he won’t even get the chance.

And so his up-and-down season continues. His game remains a mystery.

He withdrew after 11 holes of the final round at Doral with tightness in his left Achilles tendon, the same one that caused him to miss three months last year. Two weeks later, he ended 30 months without a PGA Tour victory when he won by five shots at Bay Hill. That made him a favorite at the Masters, where he tied for 40th and was harshly criticized for kicking a club after a poor tee shot on the 16th hole.

This is the third straight year at Quail Hollow that Woods wasn’t around for the weekend. He missed the cut in 2010 and did not play last year while letting what was described as “minor injuries” to his left leg heal.

Next up is a tournament that also has brought very little lucky in recent times. Woods withdrew each of the last two years from The Players Championship, leaving after seven holes of the final round with a neck injury in 2010 and stopping after a 42 on the front nine last year with an Achilles injury that kept out until August.

At least he has his health, and Woods said he would resume practice immediately.

“The entire week, I didn’t play the par 5s well,” Woods said. “Today I made four pars. You just can’t do that, especially when all of them are reachable with irons. I didn’t take care of the par 5s, missed a couple other little short ones for birdie, and consequently got no momentum during the round.”

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