|Tiger Woods after his 3rd round at the Masters (SkySports.com)|
Having just posted a new blog on Friday evening I was not going to add to the ‘noise’ surrounding the Tiger Woods penalty incident, but I have now received so many requests for my opinion and explanation of the ruling that it is easier for me to blog again than to reply to each one individually.
When I was first advised of the circumstances of Tiger’s drop after finding water at the 15th on Friday (I was not watching it live), my first thought was that he must have correctly taken relief under option b) of Rule 26-1, which would have enabled him to drop back as far as he liked along an extension of the line from the hole through where his ball last crossed the margin of the hazard (which was the third time that it crossed the margin). I soon realised that this was not the case and that he had definitely made an invalid drop by dropping about two club-lengths behind where he had last played from, when option a) of Rule 26-1 requires that the ball is dropped ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played. At that point I was sure that Tiger would be disqualified; he played from a wrong place, did not correct the error, did not inform the Committee and he and his marker signed and returned a score that did not incur the penalty that he had incurred. Rule 6-6d states;
Wrong Score for HoleWhat we were not aware of, as the controversy broke, is that the Masters Rules Committee, comprising Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters competition committee, Jim Reinhart, an Augusta National member and a former Rules of Golf and chairman of the USGA, and Mark Russell vice president of competitions for the PGA Tour, had determined earlier in the evening that Tiger had not taken an improper drop (!!!). Obviously, video evidence is not as accurate as we had imagined. In a press conference on Saturday Ridley commented;
The competitor is responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole on his score card. If he returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, he is disqualified. If he returns a score for any hole higher than actually taken, the score as returned stands.
"Having determined that we did not feel there was a rules violation, we did not talk to Tiger, so he completed his round, signed his scorecard, and the first day was over,"Unfortunately for the Rules Committee, after his round Tiger, who was unaware of either his invalid drop or of their ruling, opened up the can of worms by stating that he purposely dropped his ball two club-lengths further back from where he had previously played from, so as to improve his chances on his 5th stroke. This personal confirmation that he had dropped in a wrong place meant that the Rules Committee were forced to reconvene on Saturday morning to discuss the incident again in light of the admitted breach, and to determine the appropriate penalty. In his press conference Ridley explained;
"I told Tiger that in light of that information that we felt that he had, in fact, violated Rule 26 under the Rules of Golf and that he was going to have to be penalized," Ridley said. "I also told him because we had initially made the determination that he had not violated the rule … that under Rule 33-7 that there was ample reason not to impose the penalty of disqualification but to waive that penalty and impose a two-shot penalty. We had made a decision before he finished his round, before he finished his scorecard, and I think he's entitled to be protected by 33-7, and that's our decision, and others agree with us. Disqualification this morning was not even on the table."The relevant part of Rule 33-7 states;
A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.Many reporters assumed that the Rules Committee had waived the penalty of disqualification under Decision 33-7/4.5, which they have confirmed was not the case. You can see from this extract from that Decision why this would have been embarrassing for the Committee after Tiger’s interview with ESPN;
….if the Committee is satisfied that the competitor could not reasonably have known or discovered the facts resulting in his breach of the Rules, it would be justified under Rule 33-7 in waiving the disqualification penalty prescribed by Rule 6-6d. The penalty stroke(s) associated with the breach would, however, be applied to the hole where the breach occurred.Rule 6-1 categorically states that the player and his caddie are responsible for knowing the Rules, so dropping in a place not permitted by the Rules would not qualify for the penalty of disqualification to be waived under this Decision.
So, to be absolutely clear, the Committee waived the penalty of disqualification, because they considered that this was an exceptional individual case where such a penalty would have been too harsh. I am not aware of any other situation where a player who did not know a Rule of Golf (or if they did, they forgot about it) has been favourably treated in this way. I am therefore surprised at the ruling and believe that it may have adverse consequences in the future in similar situations.
The most disappointing feature of this incident is that it could turn some people off the game because of the perceived complexity of the Rules and the way in which they are administered. More than a day after the penalty of only two strokes was confirmed the golfing public is totally divided as to whether Tiger should voluntarily withdraw from completing this year’s Masters. The results of a poll carried out on the esteemed golf journalist, Geoff Shackleford’s website, resulted in 47% saying he should withdraw, 50% saying he should not, with 3% unsure. I am one of the 47%, because I cannot help thinking that the Committee may have arrived at a different ruling if a less ‘noteworthy’ player had been involved. Also, I think that it will take a long time for the doubters amongst those that take an interest in Golf and its Rules, to forget this seemingly biased ruling. It is probable that Tiger may have won more respect and popularity by withdrawing from the Masters, acknowledging that he did in fact return a wrong score card and accepting the same penalty of disqualification that amateurs all over the world have suffered for similar innocent mistakes. One eminent player who believes that Tiger should withdraw and definitely has the right to make such a call, is Greg Norman, who twice disqualified himself while leading tournaments; once in the 1990 Palm Meadows Cup on the Gold Coast for an illegal drop two days earlier, and the other as defending champion in the 1996 Greater Hartford Open for using a possibly non-conforming ball. In both cases, he pulled out as soon as the potential infractions were brought to his attention.
I am writing this blog just before the final round starts, with Tiger lying 4 strokes off the lead. I am hoping that he does not win, as I think that there would be a tsunami of criticism against him, which could affect his future performances. There are occasions in sport where winning is not everything.
(Edit: On May 1st 2013, The R&A, USGA issued a statement addressing the Tiger Woods Ruling at the 2013 Masters Tournament. Click here for details.)
(Edit 2: 'Without Fear Or Favor - How Tiger Woods could have turned a misstep into a giant step forward'; click here for a great article by Jerry Tarde of Golf Digest that supports my opinion on how Tiger should have dealt with this situation).
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