Interesting info re: DQ for an illegal drop, Fourputt. I don't think I agree with that policy, though: I think any sort of willful attempt to abuse the rules should be dealt with harshly. But I don't get to make the rules.
Sacm3bill, I understand where you're coming from, and went through a period where I agreed with what you're saying. I changed my mind, though. The reason is that I don't think the equitability of the DQ waiver needs to be considered in any context except in the specific competition in question. In that context, all I think they're saying is that their ordinary practice in a scenario identical except that they had reached a correct initial ruling would have led to an intervention before the scorecard was signed. Since they made an error that prevented that from happening, Woods would be at a disadvantage relative to the hypothetical golfer who had been alerted before he reached the scorer's tent.
Also, this doesn't create any obligation to police every play. If the committee had not made a ruling, the DQ would have stood. Yes, there's an element of chance there, but in this case a ruling did happen, and it's thus part of the scenario. As long as the mechanisms by which these rulings are triggered are impartial, the random element might be annoying, but it's perfectly equitable. You wrote, "The DQ was waived based on an `implicit' ruling that existed because the improper drop was observed but the player was not told they had done something wrong." That is not accurate: the DQ was not waived because the drop was observed, but because the committee made a formal ruling after reviewing it. That's an important distinction, and it is why this decision doesn't imply that the rules officials are now referees.
I think what you're saying has merit, and I don't believe the official ruling is the only logical one. It comes down to a judgment call about what is most equitable, and what best protects the principles of the rules and the interests of the competition. My feeling is that in ambiguous cases, trying to avoid a DQ if the rules and their principles permit it is probably the best approach.
Another question here, of course, is whether the practice of issuing rulings in this manner is a good one. That's a tricky question. It did lead to this flap, but this is an extraordinarily rare situation. It probably far more often "works" by correctly identifying a violation and getting word to the player in time. If one thinks that's a good thing, that benefit might outweigh the occasional controversy. It's not obvious to me which way is better, but it seems that the powers that be prefer to prevent DQs if they can. Most fans probably appreciate this, even if they aren't aware of what's going on behind the scenes---nobody likes to see their favorite golfer DQed.