- Out of Bounds
Time for a rules rethink?April 17, 2013
It was inevitable and, in some ways, sad. The backlash. The conspiracy theories. The outrage. All when it comes to Tiger Woods.
A few days have passed now since the infamous drop on the 15th hole at Augusta National and the subsequent steps to add a two-stroke penalty, determine if he should be disqualified, and then the surprising decision to let him play on - citing seldom-used Rule 33-7 that gave the rules committee discretion to avert disqualification.
Like many things in golf's rulebook, this rule leaves room for interpretation, and Woods clearly got a break.
Almost always, when a player signs his card and it is later determined he committed a rules violation, he is disqualified. Not for the violation itself, but because his card is deemed to be wrong.
And that is where a double standard with Woods arises.
Use a different name. Take eventual Masters winner Adam Scott. Put him in the 15th fairway on Friday, have him hit the pin with his third shot and see the ball bounce back into the water. Then take a drop from the original spot - but do so two yards further back - and tell the media about it afterward.
Unbeknownst to the public, the Masters rules committee actually reviewed the drop and decided there was no violation before Scott signed his card. Then overnight, word came from television people that there might be a problem. His own words to the media are analyzed. The Masters determines, yes, he did take an illegal drop.
And then Scott is disqualified on Saturday morning.
You can bet there would have been disgust. Talk about golf's rules being antiquated - and the unfairness of being disqualified a day later when, at the time of signing his card, he believed it to be correct, and that Masters rules officials let him sign it.
But put Woods' name in there, the outrage is reversed. The man is polarising in that way, scrutinised like no other. The negativity toward him in this case is disturbing.
If you want, direct your ire at Augusta National, but the chairman of the competition committee, Fred Ridley, simply believed that it would have been a disservice, unfair, to Woods to disqualify him on Saturday when it had information Friday that it did not relay to him.
And isn't that what we all seek in many of these rules discussions?
Ridley, it should be noted, is no rules neophyte. The 1975 US Amateur champion, he served for years on the United States Golf Association's rules committees and was the chairman of the competition committee before eventually becoming president of the organization in 2004-05. Since 2006, he has been chairman of the Masters competition committee.
If on Friday afternoon Woods had been presented the evidence he was shown Saturday morning, he almost assuredly would have agreed he was in error and added two strokes. But the committee did not do so.
"To me, it would have been grossly unfair to Tiger to have disqualified him after our committee had made that decision,'' said Ridley, who noted that he also consulted with the USGA and PGA Tour. "We felt it would have been prejudicial to Tiger to not have given him the benefit of that decision we made while he was still playing the 18th hole.''
Who knows if Rule 33-7 was applied properly in this case. There is plenty of debate about it and plenty of confusion. But the rule clearly leaves room for discretion. Why it has not been used more often might be a better debate.
"There's no question that Tiger should be penalised,'' Ridley said Saturday. "That's not the issue. The issue is what should we do in imposing that penalty. I'm pleased that the governing bodies and the tour are in agreement with our decision. Does it set a precedent? I hope it sets a good precedent because I think it is a good decision.''
(A more recent decision in the rulebook - Rule 33-7/4.5, which became official in 2011 - was not used in this case, although it was erroneously cited often on Saturday. Widely referred to as the Harrington Rule, it was instituted because a television viewer had seen Padraig Harrington's ball move fractionally while watching a European Tour event in high definition in 2011. Harrington was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, but the USGA and R&A later that year added the 4.5 decision, recognising that it would be quite difficult for Harrington to have known he committed such a rules violation and that it would have never come to light otherwise.)
So Woods should have simply taken it upon himself to withdraw or disqualify himself over this? He clearly was unaware that his drop was improper, telling media afterward that he stepped two yards back. Would you admit that if you were intentionally trying to break a rule?
Now it is his responsibility to know the rules and ignorance is not an excuse. But on a day when the world is watching - with a rules official on the hole, two other players supposedly "protecting the field,'' and Augusta National officials reviewing the situation as he still played - Woods was entitled to know about it before signing his card.
Which brings us back to the entire scorecard silliness. Golf purists will howl, but haven't we passed the point of having to write down scores in professional golf? At the very least, can't there be a stipulation that the scorecard is kept "open'' (not signed) for the duration of the tournament, thereby allowing for such rules violations to be added afterward? Or, better yet, once a day's play is complete, all is final?
Ten years ago, Mark Roe and Jesper Parnevik played together in the third round of the Open Championship at Royal St. George's. Roe, an Englishman, played his way into contention. He did interviews afterward, discussing his chances at winning the Claret Jug.
It was only at this point that it was learned that Roe and Parnevik had put their scores on the wrong card. Parnevik was to be keeping Roe's card, and vice versa, but somehow they got mixed up and put the other player's scores on their own card. Nobody caught it. They both signed cards that had the other players' scores. Both were disqualified.
There were no rules issues. There was nothing wrong with the scores they wrote down. They simply were on the wrong card, a clerical error.
These kind of rules gaffes are terrible for the game, especially to casual observers who have a hard time staying interested due to such complexities.
In Woods' case, he made a mistake. Admitted it. Got a two-stroke penalty. It took an unusual circumstance, but he was allowed to play on with the penalty he deserved for the infraction. Shouldn't that be enough?