EDITORIAL – FINAL WORD ON TIGER WOODS’ MASTERS RULES VIOLATION

The big story at this year’s Masters tournament was, of course, Adam Scott’s breakthrough victory in major championship golf.  Scott remained cool while all other competitors, except for Angel Cabrera, melted under the pressure.

Another big story, which fortunately hasn’t overshadowed Scott’s triumph, was Tiger Woods’ rules violation during the second round on Friday.  Woods’ third shot onto the par-5 15th green bounced off the flagstick and into the water.  After examining his options, Woods opted to go back to the spot from where he hit the previous shot.  The only problem was that he dropped behind that spot.  He was thinking, erroneously, that you could keep that spot between the hole and the drop spot.  He proceeded to hit his fifth shot next to the hole and then one-putted for an apparent six.

Later than night on ESPN, Woods said he dropped a couple of yards farther back so he wouldn’t hit the flagstick again.  This prompted Masters officials to launch an inquiry.  For, you see, before Woods finished his second round, a TV viewer notified the Masters committee that Woods apparently did not drop as “nearly as possible” to the previous spot as required under the Rules when taking a stroke-and-distance penalty.  The committee looked at the replay, and despite the fact that the replay clearly showed Woods dropped somewhat behind the spot of his previous spot, ruled that there was no violation.  Now, how they came to this conclusion is a mystery, and one they never answered, but rules officials often translate “nearly as possible,” as a practical application, to be within a foot or two.

The committee ruled on Saturday that Woods would take a retroactive two-stroke penalty and not be disqualified, despite the fact that he signed an incorrect scorecard.  Why?  Because the committee basically admitted they messed up.  They should have addressed the situation with Woods prior to his signing the card.  There is precedent for this.  During the 2001 US Open, Lee Janzen committed a rules violation calling for a two-stroke penalty that was seen by a rules official. The official said nothing to Janzen.  After Janzen signed his card with an incorrect score, the official informed the committee of the penalty.  They said that since the official did not address the issue with Janzen, a penalty of disqualification would be waived under Rule 33-7 and a retroactive two-stroke penalty was applied.

Rule 33-7 allows the committee in exceptional individual cases to waive a penalty of disqualification.  This Rule was applied correctly in both Woods’ and Janzen’s case.  There were a number of calls for Woods to DQ himself, but these were misplaced.  Had Woods actually done that, he would have, in effect, been telling the world that the Masters committee didn’t know what they were doing.  In actuality, the TV viewer who called in did Woods a favor, for if the committee had no knowledge of the incident prior to Woods signing his scorecard, he would indeed have been disqualified.

Unfortunately, incorrect beliefs by major golf media personalities and the general golfing public are still held today regarding this incident.  The bottom line is that the ruling was correct.  The problem is that the Rules and philosophy behind them are hard to understand if one hasn’t studied them in-depth – and most people haven’t.  Rules officials know what they are doing, and it’s important that we recognize that fact.

By Mark Harman, USGTF National Course Director, Ridgeland, SC

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