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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Storms halt Barbasol before Lincicome tees off

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2018, 11:29 pm

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - Brittany Lincicome will have to wait until the weekend to resume her bid to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Overnight storms delayed the start of the second round Friday in the Barbasol Championship, and an afternoon thunderstorm suspended competition for good. The round will resume Saturday morning with much of the field still to play.

The second stoppage at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came 20 minutes before Lincicome's scheduled tee time.

Lincicome was near the bottom of the field after opening with a 6-over 78 on Thursday. The first LPGA player since Michelle Wie in 2008 to start a PGA Tour event, she needs a huge rebound to join Babe Zaharias (1945) as the only female players to make the cut.

Troy Merritt had the clubhouse lead at 15 under, following an opening 62 with a 67.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”