20 questions: Tiger Woods' Masters rule violation

By Jason SobelApril 19, 2013, 12:30 pm

Now that we’re several days removed from the Tiger Woods rules situation at the Masters and the debate has died down and we can finally ...

What’s that? Oh, the debate hasn’t died down?

As you know by now, Woods took an illegal drop during the second round, in effect combining options of Rule 26-1 which state that he can either drop the ball as far back as needed from the point of entry or drop “as near as possible” to the original spot.

The ensuing situation – or fiasco or imbroglio, depending how deep you want to go into the thesaurus – has continued to be a polarizing issue. With so many lingering thoughts, let’s play Twenty Questions.

1. Why was the call made?

On Saturday morning, Fred Ridley, chairman of the Rules Committee for the Masters, confirmed that the drop was examined one day earlier by officials on video and deemed legal. Their mistake, though, was closing the case before Woods finished rather than speaking with him before he signed his scorecard.

After Woods emerged from the scoring area, he told a television reporter that he purposely moved 2 yards further back in order to have a better distance into the green. It was then that a red flag was raised, suggesting the committee should have spoken with him directly afterward.

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Perhaps the best descriptive analogy of the events that I’ve seen to date came from former PGA Tour professional Larry Rinker via Twitter: “Masters officials hit it OB by not talking to Tiger before he signed his scorecard. They took a mulligan by using rule 33-7.”

2. Was Rule 33-7 implemented in the proper manner?

It’s been suggested that Rule 33-7 contains a loophole. That’s only partly true. The reality is, Rule 33-7 is a loophole.

Here is the exact language for this rule:

“A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted. Any penalty less than disqualification must not be waived or modified. If a Committee considers that a player is guilty of a serious breach of etiquette, it may impose a penalty of disqualification under this Rule.”

In layman’s terms, it basically means the Rules Committee can thwart any potential disqualification. Essentially, it becomes a judgment call.

3. Why didn’t Woods consult a rules official?

There was a little bit of déjà vu all over again working here. Earlier this year in Abu Dhabi, Woods failed to consult a rules official and had to call a penalty on himself prior to signing his scorecard.

It burned him then and burned him again at Augusta.

Then again, professional golfers shouldn’t need an official to make a drop. He knew the rule. As he admitted, he just made a mistake.

4. Should the Masters have a rules official assigned to every group?

It couldn’t hurt, but it may not help as much as you’d think, either.

Even though the tournament doesn’t assign an official to each group, Woods certainly could have called for one. Of course, at the time he didn’t realize he was illegally dropping. Some people have maintained that if an official was present, he could have prevented this, but unlike a football referee or baseball umpire, it isn’t the job of an official to make such calls without first being asked.

Call it a Catch-22: A golfer can’t call a rules official to make a ruling if he doesn’t know he’s breaking a rule.

5. Was Woods guilty of trying to cheat?

No. There’s a major difference between cheating and breaking the rules when it comes to integrity and morality, but under the Rules of Golf they are treated as one and the same. He made a mistake, as he said. A brain cramp, if you will.

But if you really think the world’s most popular golfer is trying to pull a fast one on millions of viewers on the world’s most popular golf course, then I’d love to hear your views about the second shooter on the grassy knoll. That’s a hell of a conspiracy theory to think Woods was knowingly trying to bend the rules right in plain sight.

6. Should television viewers be allowed to phone in rules violations?

Of course not. The idea is inane, archaic and doesn’t happen in any other sport.

But ...

Where is the line drawn? What if an on-course volunteer witnesses a violation? Or a fan in the gallery? How about if a rules official receives a text message from a buddy who’s watching at home? Should he not follow up on what could have been an infraction simply because it came from an outside source?

Perhaps an even better question in today’s social media-enhanced world: What if it’s not a single phone call, but a groundswell of support from the masses that a rule was broken? While Ridley acknowledged that Woods’ situation was reviewed when a viewer contacted an official, the potential news was sweeping through Twitter on Friday night, with golf professionals, rules gurus and thousands of interested fans making their opinions known.

So while it’s easy to contend that individual phone calls pointing out rules violations should be outlawed, there’s something equally wrong with ignoring a full-scale social media movement that is trying to correct an injustice.

7. Are top players actually at a disadvantage?

This entire situation should reignite debate about top players often having an unfair disadvantage because every shot they hit is televised.

It’s an issue that famously came to light when Dustin Johnson was called for grounding his club in a hazard on the final hole of the 2010 PGA Championship. With hundreds of bunkers across Whistling Straits, there’s little doubt that lesser-known players were guilty of committing the same infraction earlier in the week, just without the eyes of the world keeping a close watch on their every maneuver.

Same here. Not to impugn any other player, but if Thaworn Wiratchant, for instance, unknowingly committed the same violation on Thursday morning, it would have been much less likely to be called for the simple reason that fewer people were paying close attention.

8. How can this inequality be corrected?

Oh, that’s easy – cameras following every shot for every group, with each shot closely scrutinized for potential violations.

Yes, I’m kidding.

If you thought slow play was a problem now …

9. Why did Woods mention in a post-round interview that he moved 2 yards further back?

He obviously wasn’t trying to get himself in hot water, nor did he realize at the time that he had committed a violation.

What he was doing was gloating in a self-effacing way. Since his shot from 87 yards hit the flagstick, he moved to a spot 89 yards away instead. This was Woods essentially telling the world that his yardages are so dialed in, there’s a difference between his 87-yard shot and his 89-yard shot.

And apparently he’s right, since the first one hit the flagstick and the second stopped 2 feet away from the hole.

10. Why was this referred to as Dropgate?

Because four decades ago, there was a major political scandal that resulted from a break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., and ever since then we collectively as a society haven’t been creative enough to find new names for scandals rather than just slapping the “gate” suffix on the end of something.

11. If Woods’ ball didn’t hit the flagstick and instead came to rest 2 feet from the hole, would he have won the Masters?

I’ll answer this with a statement they must teach in Golf Executive 101 classes, because every major exec in the game is well versed in using this phrase: “I don’t deal in hypotheticals.” Maybe it could have given him the momentum needed to make a serious run at the title. Maybe his fellow competitors would have felt a little extra heat with Tiger’s name on the leaderboard. It’s impossible to know.

Here’s what we do know, though: If Woods carded birdie instead of bogey and wasn’t subject to a two-stroke penalty, that would have been a four-shot swing. And what was the final differential between the winning score and that of Woods? That’s right. Four shots.

12. By issuing a two-stroke penalty instead of a disqualification, was Augusta National showing favoritism toward Woods?

I don’t deal in hypotheticals.

(Hey, this exec-speak is pretty fun.)

I would like to believe that if the exact same scenario happened to Marc Leishman or Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano or any other lesser-known player without four Masters titles, the exact same ruling would have been made. Perhaps that’s a myopic viewpoint. Maybe I’m just naïve. But without anything comparable, we have to give officials the benefit of the doubt.

13. But couldn’t Woods have been kept in the field to enhance weekend ratings?

If Augusta National officials were interested in ratings, they would have more televised coverage throughout all four days. If they were interested in further monetizing their event, they would have more commercial interruption than just four minutes per hour.

The truth is, they don’t need much help in either department anyway.

Sure, Woods’ inclusion on a leaderboard helps ratings. But the Masters is like the Olympics. Even those who don’t watch swimming and diving or track and field on a regular basis will pay attention when it’s the pinnacle of the sport.

14. Doesn’t that make such a rule totally subjective?

Sure does. Most rules in golf are black and white. This one has 50 shades of gray.

15. How has it been explained to current pros?

One PGA Tour member who wasn’t competing in the Masters texted me while this situation was under review. Prefacing his comments by contending he likes Woods and didn’t wish for him to be disqualified, he offered the following:

“You can't add the two shots in this case. They explicitly told us ignorance is not an excuse. This ruling is completely wrong. I'm 100 percent certain. We had a meeting about this exact thing.'

There’s a difference in the language here. Rule 33-7 is meant to save a player who unknowingly commits a violation from being disqualified. For example, if a player’s ball moves slightly after he grounds his club and he doesn’t see it, then signs his card and a rules official is alerted about the infraction, it keeps him in the tournament. What Woods was guilty of, though, was ignorance of the rules. It’s a player’s responsibility to know the rules and abide by them.

16. Was the right decision made?

Yes. And no.

As outlined above, Rule 33-7 is essentially a catch-all. By the letter of the law, a rules committee can overrule any potential disqualification – and that’s exactly what happened in this circumstance. Masters officials used this loophole and Woods was given a second life.

And yet, it still felt more than a bit disingenuous. Woods committed an infraction, signed his scorecard, was found guilty of a violation and therefore should have been disqualified. Like it or not, this is how the game works.

By the exact wording of the Rules of Golf, Woods both should have been disqualified and could have been saved under this particular language. If that sounds mind-bending, it should.

It also helps serve to explain why this is such a hot-button issue, even one week after it took place.

17. Should Woods have disqualified himself?

This is one of my biggest pet peeves to come out of this story. Players can’t DQ themselves. If Woods felt he should no longer compete in the tournament, he would have had to withdraw instead. Semantics, I know.

18.OK, should Woods have withdrawn?

I understand the notion that – strictly from a PR standpoint – he may have earned more respect from the masses by deciding that his incorrect scorecard was enough to warrant him bowing out of the tournament.

This breaking news just in: Woods cares more about winning major championships than good PR.

For those who believe he should have withdrawn, though, let’s examine the situation from the opposite perspective. In this scenario, Woods decides that two strokes isn’t the appropriate penalty and removes himself from the field. Sure, there are many who will applaud the decision. But it also contains a bitter vibe. If I don’t get my way, I’m going to take my ball and go home. Either way, he can’t win. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

One day earlier, 14-year-old Tianlang Guan was cheered for accepting a penalty with class and not complaining about it. Yet when Woods accepts a penalty with class and doesn’t complain about it, that’s not good enough for some people. Smells like a rotten double-standard.

19. Will Woods’ legacy be tarnished by failing to withdraw?

Knowing fully that some of my most respected colleagues maintained this to be true, I can’t disagree more. When the epitaph is written for Woods’ career, this entire rules situation will be nothing more than a footnote, if it’s even mentioned at all.

20. And finally, will the 2013 Masters be remembered more for the Woods ruling than the actual winner?

If we had asked this question with the leaders already a few holes into the back nine on Sunday, it may have been true. If one player had pulled away from the pack and prevailed by three or four shots, it could have happened.

Instead, the final hour of the tournament turned into one of the most dramatic in recent memory, with Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera staging a back-and-forth contest of, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” It put the Woods situation on the back burner, a positive sign for the event and everyone involved. When the Australian sank a 12-foot birdie putt to clinch the victory, he wasn’t the only one who won.

After a weekend that was marred by slow play and penalties and rulings and debates, anyone turned off to the game through it all was turned back on to it by the grand finale.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.) 

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.