Cam Cole: Tiger Woods has gone the length to lose Masters
But the rules committee assessed a 2-stroke penalty for the illegal drop, not disqualification
Tiger Woods of the US hits to the 15th hole during the second round of the 77th Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia. Woods is facing a possible disqualification for a possible rules violation committed on the 15th hole.
Photograph by: JEWEL SAMAD, AFP/Getty Images
Augusta, Ga. --Well, a lot of people said it was Tiger Woods's Masters to lose.
Few could have imagined the lengths to which he'd go, to do it -- or the lengths to which the Masters rules committee would go, to ensure that he didn't. At least, not before two days of guaranteed boffo weekend TV ratings.
A day after infuriating much of golfdom by singling out a 14-year-old Chinese boy, Tianlang Guan, to pay for the slow-playing sins of all of professional golf, the green-jacketed rulers of the Augusta National Golf Club were forced to deal with a much bigger fish.
Click here for more photos of Tiger Wood's drop or click on the tab above
Tiger Woods, the world's No. 1 player and presumptive favourite to win his fifth Masters title this week, misinterpreted one of the basic rules of golf, inadvertently took an illegal drop in the 15th fairway during Friday's second round after hitting his third shot into the pond fronting the green, then signed a scorecard reflecting a lower score than would have been the case if the penalty had been applied -- and was allowed to continue playing on Saturday.
The rules committee penalized him two strokes, leaving him five back of 36-hole leader Jason Day, rather than three, but elected to waive the usual disqualification penalty for signing for a lower score, citing exceptional circumstances.
And the golf world exploded in outrage.
On the Golf Channel, commentators Brandel Chamblee and Nick Faldo called for Woods to "man up" and withdraw for the sake of the game's integrity. On Twitter, frequent Masters loser Greg Norman did the same.
Former and current players weighed in, decrying the ruling and criticizing the Masters for playing favourites.
A few, like 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, who had missed the cut on Friday, argued the other side:
"2 shot penalty for TW for wrong drop. New rule applied for trial by tv. Instead of retroactive DQ, player receives a penalty. Decent rule." And later: "Take the fact that it was Tiger out of the equation and it is a fair ruling. Since it is him the debate begins about TV ratings etc etc."
But overwhelmingly, the opposite view was written -- in block capitals, with exclamation points.
The club explained its decision as follows:
"In preparation for his fifth shot, the player dropped his ball in close proximity to where he had played his third shot in apparent conformance with Rule 26. After being prompted by a television viewer, the Rules Committee reviewed video of the shot while he was playing the 18th hole. At that moment and based on that evidence, the Committee determined he had complied with the Rules."
Satisfied that there had been no infraction, no official approached Woods to apprise him of the situation before he signed his scorecard.
"After he signed his scorecard," the statement continued, "and in a television interview subsequent to the round, the player stated that he played further from the point than where he played his third shot. Such action would constitute playing from the wrong place.
"The subsequent information provided by the player's interview after he had completed play warranted further review and discussion with him this morning. It was determined he had violated Rule 26, and he was assessed a two-stroke penalty. The penalty of disqualification was waived by the Committee under Rule 33 as the Committee had previously reviewed the information and made its initial determination prior to the finish of the player's round."
In other words, the committee had initially ruled incorrectly based on inconclusive video, after a TV viewer called to snitch, and didn't think it was fair to retroactively go back on its earlier decision, when the only reason it knew the actual circumstances was because of something Woods said to ESPN's Tom Rinaldi after signing his scorecard -- i.e. that he had dropped the ball two yards further back because his previous shot had struck the flagstick and bounced back into the water, and he didn't want a repeat.
Rule 33-7 states: "A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted."
Competition committee chairman Fred Ridley said that disqualification "was not even on the table" by the time Woods was summoned to explain his thinking Saturday morning. Rule 33-7 had already been applied, and Ridley said the USGA and R&A concurred with the decision.
The argument went off in a dozen different directions, including a tweet from Hall of Fame golf writer Dan Jenkins comparing the ruling to the one that cost Roberto de Vicenzo the 1968 Masters. But the situations are apples and oranges. There was no question of disqualifying de Vicenzo, because the Argentinian simply signed for a higher score than he had shot, and had to live with it.
The ruling on Woods more closely resembles a 1960 Masters ruling involving Dow Finsterwald, who was practice-putting on a green after holing out, and did so again the next day when Billy Casper told him he thought it was against the rules. Finsterwald went to an official and told him what he had done. It should have resulted in disqualification based on the previous day's scorecard, but the committee penalized him two strokes, instead.
Finsterwald ended up third, losing by two strokes to Arnold Palmer.
The Masters plays by the R&A/USGA rules of golf, but its discretion is its own.
Some further thoughts: Woods is held to a higher standard than other players because his every movement is captured on TV. If it's Hunter Mahan shooting 78, Rinaldi doesn't interview him, the "two yards" quote never comes out, and no one gives it a second thought.
A lot of those players criticizing him today have never been that thoroughly scrutinized while taking drops. Then again, rules officials didn't used to take phone calls from TV snitches during tournaments, and it's a mystery why they do so now.
The rule Woods broke, Rule 26, offers three options for dropping his ball after it caromed into the pond, two of which he appears to have melded into one. He gained no advantage from doing so. He should have lined himself up with the hole and where the ball entered the water on its backward carom off the flagstick, a slightly different angle; then he could have gone back as far on that line as he wanted, and dropped. Instead, he went two yards back from the original spot, and the rule says that if he chooses that option, he must drop "as near as possible" to the place where the first shot occurred, not two yards back of his original divot.
Still, ignorance of the rules is no excuse. Never has been. Neither has signing an incorrect scorecard.
When Tianlang Guan was assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play on Friday, Woods said: "Rules are rules."
Except when they aren't.
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