Augusta, Ga. – Tiger Woods and the Masters should have been embarrassed on Saturday. Neither seems capable of that emotion.
Perhaps the greatest golfer ever and the greatest golf tournament in existence should have held themselves to higher standards.
The tournament should have recognized Woods’ rules violation during the second round, then should have intervened before Woods could sign his scorecard. Woods should have displayed a golfing form of honor by withdrawing when he realized he broke the rules while attempting to give himself a competitive advantage, even if his mistake was honest.
Instead, the Masters invoked a rule that shouldn’t necessarily apply to obvious mistakes like the one Woods made, to allow him to remain in the tournament with a two-shot penalty. By the end of Saturday, Woods stood four behind the lead, with a chance to win a tainted major.
“Under the rules of golf, I can play,” Woods said.
While the Masters and Woods adhered to the letter of the rules, the series of events made Augusta National smell about as bad as it does when the groundskeepers spread fertilizer to soak up a heavy rain, especially when the efforts to salvage Woods’ eligibility came one day after the tourney penalized a 14-year-old for slow play on a day filled with slow players.
Don’t take my word for it. Take it from one of golf’s most respected elders.
“I’m a pro now, since ’89,” said Ernie Els. “I’ve never seen a guy sign for a scorecard and then come back and play the next day after a rules infringement. It’s as simple as that. Nothing against nobody. The rules of the game is there, and it’s always been there, and this has never happened.”
Zach Johnson, who won the Masters in 2007, said: “Taking yourself out of the tournament is definitely an option. To formulate an opinion, I would like to understand what sequentially happened. I’d like to hope that any and all of my peers, if they knowingly or unknowingly violated the rules, would do what they feel is necessary to protect the field.”
What sequentially happened was this: Woods, playing the 15th hole on Friday, hit his third shot off the flagstick and into the water. When he dropped his ball for his next shot, he did not obey the rules that require him to drop as near as possible to his previous position. He dropped a couple of yards behind his previous divot, and on an incorrect line.
In most sports, he would have been excused or even commended for seeking an advantage. Golf is not like any other sport. Golfers pride themselves on calling penalties on themselves, and in golf ignorance of the rules is not an excuse. Woods could have called over a rules official but declined to.
He dropped his ball in a different place to gain an advantage on his next shot, and admitted that in a postround interview.
There are a dozen things wrong with this scenario and the way golf rules are applied. Tournament officials should have recognized Woods’ mistake before a television viewer called it in. Major championships should not be affected by phone calls. Golf’s rulebook is ridiculously long and impenetrable.
What matters is the spirit of the rules that govern a sport based on the honor code, and the spirit of the rules contends that if a player breaks a rule while seeking an advantage, he is disqualified. Saturday, the Masters let Woods off the hook and Woods accepted the charity.
If Woods wins on Sunday and winds up with 19 majors, breaking Jack Nickaus’ record, his achievement will deserve an asterisk.
“Disqualification, this morning, was not even on the table,” said Fred Ridley, the chairman of competition committee.
Friday afternoon, after signing his scorecard, Woods was asked about 14-year-old Guan Tianlang being penalized for slow play. Woods said, “Rules are rules.”
Saturday, Guan proved wiser than Woods or the Masters. Asked what he thought of Woods’ penalty, he said, “I think that rules are rules.”