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Tiger Woods gets free drop after fan reportedly pockets his golf ball

Tiger Woods has been a part of some bizarre rules decisions over the years, but what happened on Friday at the Wells Fargo Championship ranks right up there with Woods' "Boulder-gate" situation at the 1999 Phoenix Open.

In danger of missing the cut when he stepped on the tee at the par-5 fifth (his 14th hole of the day), Woods was trying to make a couple of birdies down the stretch to hang around for the weekend. Instead, Woods found himself in the middle of a truly bizarre rules decision.

After hooking his second shot into the trees, Woods walked up to find his ball was nowhere to be found. Despite playing in front of a gallery that was at least four or five deep, every member claimed they never saw the ball.

Searching with hundreds of fans, Woods searched the pine straw and leaves, figuring it would show up at some point. Only the ball never reappeared. Woods shrugged his shoulders and assumed the ball lost; he would have to go back to the fairway, 261 yards from the green, to play his fourth shot.

[Related: Putting dooms Tiger Woods at Wells Fargo Championship]

But the story didn't end there. Just moments before Woods declared his intentions, a fan, Thomas Crosby, stepped forward and informed officials that he saw the ball land, but by the time he got to the spot where fans had gathered, it was gone.

"One gentleman specifically told me, 'I saw the ball hit right here, I saw it bounce, it didn't look like it was going far, and then I saw several people come around and get around the ball where it was going, and the ball vanished.'" PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell said after the round.  "... Based on the evidence we had, somebody must have picked the ball up, the way I see it."

Taking Crosby at his word, Russell assumed someone in the gallery had pocketed Woods' ball -- even though other fans claimed they heard the ball but never saw it land. One man's story allowed Woods to get a free drop from the nearest point where Crosby saw the ball land, and walk away with an unbelievable par three shots later.

Did someone really pick up Woods' ball and put it in their pocket? Who knows for sure? But PGA Tour officials said after the round that they believed that was the case.

Even with the stroke of good fortune late in the round, Woods missed the cut by a single shot and won't be around for the weekend at the Wells Fargo Championship. The missed cut was just the eighth of his career.

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