Jim Souhan analyzes the local sports scene and advises you to never take his betting advice. He likes old guitars and old music, never eats press box hot dogs, and can be heard on 1500ESPN at 2:05 p.m. weekdays, and Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon.
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You've probably heard or read by now that Tiger Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty this morning for taking an illegal drop at the 15th hole on Friday in the second round of The Masters.
Woods played his third shot from the fairway. His ball hit the flag and caromed back, and to the left, and into the water. Woods decided not to play from the drop zone. He dropped a few yards from his divot, made a 6 on the hole and finished the second round three strokes off the lead.
Saturday morning, The Masters released a statement from Fred Ridley, chairman of its competition committees, saying that the tournament rules committee was ``prompted by a television viewer'' to review his drop. ``At that moment and based on that evidence, the Committee determined he had complied with the rules,'' the statement read, in part.
When Woods admitted during his post-round interview that he had dropped the ball well behind his divot to give him an advantageous yardage, the committee statement said, ``Such action would constitute playing from the wrong place.''
The committee met with Woods this morning and told him he was being assessed a two-shot penalty. He would have been disqualified under older versions of golf's rule book, but rule 33-7 was added in 2011 to address instances in which observers notify officials about inadvertent rules violations.
That's the news. Here's my opinion: Tiger is benefitting from The Masters' desire to have him on TV this weekend. Just Friday, the tournament assessed a penalty stroke to a 14-year-old for slow play, on a day when just about anybody on the course could have been penalized for slow play. After that happened, Tiger said, ``Rules are rules.''
I'm not always a letter-of-the-law guy, because golf's rules are too numerous and picayune, and sometimes just stupid. A player, for example, shouldn't be penalized when the wind blows his golf ball while he's preparing to putt. That's silly.
Here's why I think Tiger should withdraw: He admitted he broke the rule, and broke the rule while seeking an unfair advantage. Moving your ball back to a more desirable distance is cheating.
Any player should withdraw under these circumstances. Tiger should, especially. He gained an unfair advantage. He dropped the ball at an optimal distance, which allowed him to get up and down from the fairway and save a bogey when double or triple bogey loomed.
What if he wins his 15th major because he cheated? What if he subsequently wins 19 majors, breaking Jack Nicklaus' record? His record will be forever tainted.
There are many areas of gray here. If Woods had not conducted a post-round interview, he would be safe. But he did, so he shouldn't be.
The Masters looks bad, because the tournament committee looks like it is willing to punish a 14-year-old to the full extent of the rules, and willing to give a pass to a player whose presence affects TV ratings.
But there is room within the rules for The Masters to allow Woods to remain in the tournament.
That's why Woods needs to display some perspective and withdraw. He cheated. He admitted he cheated. He benefitted by cheating. He should withdraw.
One day after saying he never meant to say he couldn't win The Masters, Sergio Garcia convinced everyone he was right the first time. After shooting a 66 on Thursday, he shot 76 on Friday, falling from a tie for first to a tie for 15th.
Garcia looks for scapegoats and excuses when he plays poorly. Friday ,it was that dastardly wind.
``There were some shots you would hit well that would make you look a little bit silly, like what happened to me on 15,'' he said. ``I hit a great three-iron. It's almost dead calm when Angel (Cabrera) and Adam (Scott) were hitting. I hit mine, I hit what I thought was a perfect shot to the middle of the green and caught a huge gust and unfortunately it comes up short into the water.
``You know, those things you can't really control.''
Cabrera managed. He shot a 69.
The Masters penalized 14-year-old amateur Tianlang Guan a shot for slow play. The tournament is within its rights to do so, but hadn't called a similar penalty on another golfer since 1995.
Guan said he understood and accepted the penalty.
Tiger Woods has surged into a tie for the lead with Fred Couples, who spent the entire round stretching his always-touchy back, and Marc Leishman, the Australian playing in his third major. I'll write about Tiger and his strange band of competitors for the Saturday paper.
By the way, don't give Tiger another green jacket yet. Last year he was eight under in the first two rounds of majors and 15 over in the second two rounds.
Sportswriters root not for teams or individuals, but for stories. Here's what I'm rooting for this weekend:
I want to see these players on the leaderboard, tightly packed through Sunday afternoon, for these reasons:
-Tiger Woods: Golf is more interesting when he's in contention. He doesn't have to win. In fact, I think of him the way I think of the Yankees: I want them to be good enough to matter, and flawed enough that they don't win it all. Tiger remains the biggest story in golf, like it or not.
-Dustin Johnson: He could have three majors by now, and his game should fit Augusta National perfecty. And maybe it does now. He's hitting his driver a mile and his short game is improved. If he can dominate the par-5s - and he should be able to dominate the par-5s - he might win here the way Tiger used to.
-Matt Kuchar: Likable, humble player who is more than good enough to win a major but hasn't yet.
-David Lynn or someone like him: You want to have one unkown stepping into the arena with the big names, just to see whether his nerves will hold up. Lynn is a prankster. How about Lynn playing with Tiger on Sunday afternoon and substituting an exploding ball on the first tee?
-Rickie Fowler: Another young player with the talent to win, but who may not be ready for a major.
-Keegan Bradley and Ian Poulter: Two players who loved the Ryder Cup competition. Both are far off the pace, but it would be fun to see them bring that fire to Augusta.
-Fred Couples: He loves this place. This place loves him. I followed him for a few holes this morning, and the crowds around him were bigger than the ones around Tiger early on Thursday.
-Jason Dufner: For this reason: He's a reminder that this is a game of skill and intelligence. He's a reminder because he might have the worse body I've seen on a professional athlete since Larry Casian pitched for the Twins.
He's short and chubby. He has multiple chins. He has no muscle mass to speak of. He walks and looks like he may fall asleep at any moment. He's well off the pace, as well, but I'd love to see him make a run.
It rained pretty heavy this morning, and the course is playing tough right now. Matt Kuchar has birdied the second to reach 5-under, good for second place, one shot behind Marc Leishman. The weather is supposed to clear this afternoon.
The second round has begun, and Trevor Immelman, the Masters champ in 2008, has birdied No. 2 to reach five-under par, good for third place.
Observations after a day and a sliver of the tourney:
-David Lynn, tied for fifth after the first round, is a bit of a character. The Englishman was fairly unkown until he shot consecutive 68s at the PGA Championship last year to finish second to Rory McIlroy.
He's a prankster, and a ``planker.'' That's the act of pretending you're a plank, and laying with arms tightly to your side in unusual positions. (No, I don't get it either.) He said he's cut back on the pranks and planking and won't be doing any of that at Augusta. ``I want to be welcomed back,'' he said.
-Dustin Johnson has come close to winning the other three majors - remember him grounding his club on loose sand at Whistling Straits at the PGA in 2010? - and says his game is best-suited to The Masters. He loves hitting driver, hits it a mile, and, depending on the conditions, sometimes has a short iron in to the back-nine par 5s that so often determine the winner here.
He begins the day tied for third.
-Fred Couples is 53, but he plays well here regardless of age. He's tied for fifth after an opening 68. He won here in 1992 only because his tee shot to the par-3 12th hung up on the bank rather than sliding into Rae's Creek. He has always played here as if blessed by the golf gods.
He's made the cut in 26 of his 28 Masters appearances, and he clearly loves playing here.
Can he win? As with most entrants of any age, the answer is ``probably not.'' But if Tom Watson can come close to winning the British Open at the age of 59 in 2009, why can't Couples compete on a course perfectly suited to his game?
He says he'll play The Masters until he doesn't think he can win. Whcih, of course, means, he thinks he can win now.
-First rounds are rarely definitive, but the first day of The Masters was remindful of how rare golf is in terms of inclusiveness to all ages.
Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer hit ceremonial tee shots. Tianlang Guan shot a 73 at the age of 14, then said he'd like to someday win all four majors in one year. Couples put himself into contention at 53. And Sergio Garcia, who has seen past his prime for years, is tied for the lead.
How old is he? Just 33.
-I'll be on 1500ESPN at noon for my regular weekday hit. Sunday, we'll have the Ron Gardenhire Show at 9:30, followed by Sunday Sports Talk from 10-noon.
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