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Controversy drowns out golf on eve of The Players

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – “It's a distraction, whether it's the right thing or the wrong thing to do,” Davis Love III figured on Tuesday afternoon at TPC Sawgrass.

The four-time PGA Tour Policy Board member was referring to the brewing brouhaha over the potential ban on anchoring, which is scheduled to go critical before the end of spring. Less than 24 hours later, the circuit, and by default golf, found itself the subject of even more headlines for all the wrong reasons.

On Wednesday the crisis du jour was news that Vijay Singh had filed a lawsuit against the Tour in a New York court for “violating its duty of care and good faith.”

“Good for him,” hissed one Tour type on the TPC Sawgrass practice tee on the eve of the circuit’s flagship event. “Either (IGF-1) was banned and (Singh) should have been suspended or it wasn’t in which case he was wrongfully accused.”


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Video: Singh's doping saga continues at The Players


Forgive the Tour player – who less than 24 hours earlier had accused the Tour of playing favorites for its handling of the Singh affair – if he sounded strangely like an attorney arguing before a judge, but such is the lexicon of professional golf these days.

Not since the early 1950s, when golf’s rule makers played by separate sets of rules, has the game witnessed this level of collective contentiousness.

In a recent article, Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte described an exchange between PGA of America president Ted Bishop and R&A chief executive Peter Dawson regarding the proposed ban on anchoring.

“When Bishop made the point that the PGA of America was standing up for the ‘best interests of the amateur golfer (by publically opposing the ban),’” Rosaforte wrote. “Dawson bristled and, according to Bishop, pointed a finger at him and said, ‘That's not your role.’”

The proposed ban has cut a swath through golf that dissects the Atlantic Ocean. On one side, the R&A, USGA and European Tour, which sided with golf’s rule makers on the proposal. On the other, the PGA Tour and PGA of America.

And if golf’s powerbrokers didn’t sound irretraceable before, Dawson’s recent take regarding the rift promises to only widen the gulf.

“I'm disappointed at the way that campaign was conducted. It put rule-making on to the negotiating table,” Dawson said. “People have taken positions that they will now have to back off from or maintain. The negotiating table is no place for rule-making. Obviously, feelings are strong. We shall have to see where it goes.”

As for the Tour’s stance, commissioner Tim Finchem said on Wednesday to Golf Channel:  “Are we going to follow the (Rules of Golf)? Under our rules we profess to want to do so but our rules also provide the ability to go a separate way.”

Translation: if the circuit doesn’t like the way the USGA and R&A go on the anchoring issue, the Tour could create its own set of rules – effectively ushering in an age of bifurcation.

But if the anchoring debate has taken on a partisan feel in recent weeks, Singh’s haymaker on Wednesday at The Players was akin to a broken bottle in the tense moments before a bar fight.

At issue isn’t whether the Fijian used deer-antler spray or that the supplement contained IGF-1, which is a banned substance on the Tour’s performance-enhancing drug list. He did and it does.

What brings Singh and Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., into the legal cage match is whether IGF-1 should have been on the banned list to begin with.

“Absolutely it’s got IGF-1 in it,” said Mitch Ross, the founder of S.W.A.T.S. (Sports with Alternatives to Steroids), which created the deer-antler spray. “But you can’t ban IGF-1 in its natural form.”

According to the lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday, “The spray does not contain enough IGF-1 to be anything more than a placebo ... (and) is a biologically inactive protein.”

While you may not like Singh’s timing, his motivations are understandable. Despite the Tour’s ruling last week that he was innocent – a move which was prompted by a policy reversal by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which the Tour follows – he will forever be the “deer antler” guy to fans.

“I am proud of my achievements, my work ethic and the way I live my life,” Singh said in a statement. “The PGA Tour not only treated me unfairly, but displayed a lack of professionalism that should concern every professional golfer and fan of the game.”

In the Tour’s defense, they had no choice but to follow WADA, the global ruling body on all things doping related. Simply put, if WADA is wrong, the Tour doesn’t know how to be right. Nor does the circuit have any interest in getting into the science of doping, as Singh’s lawsuit suggested.

But in the process of protecting the sport from the scourge of doping, a Hall of Famer’s legacy may be forever besmirched no matter how many millions of dollars he may be awarded from Tour coffers.

“I’m just not going to comment on this action for a lot of different reasons. It’s a matter in the court right now,” Finchem said. “We go by the WADA list. When WADA changed its list we dropped the charges.”

But then hiding behind legal nuances and administrative snafus won’t help mend strained relationships or make the game any less contentious.

Golf has become a real-time version of sports talk radio – from Tiger Woods’ run in with the rules at Augusta National known as Drop-gate, to the perception hit golf took when officials at the Masters penalized 14-year-old Guan Tianlang for slow play – and relegated even the loudest cheers from this week’s Players Championship to background noise.

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