IN A CASE of calculated pandering to television and the bottom line, Tiger Woods roamed the course Saturday, an exception to golf’s golden rule.
Woods signed an incorrect scorecard on Friday night after turning in an impressive round of golf that had him three strokes off the lead. He took an illegal drop on No. 15, and then assessed a one-stroke penalty to himself instead of a two-stroke penalty, as the rules state.
He detailed for ESPN how he had purposefully taken a drop away from the original spot in order to improve his chances of making a better shot. Essentially, he cheated and told the world he cheated.
Not knowingly, mind you. Nonetheless, he ran afoul of the rule book.
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The penalty: Disqualification.
But heaven forbid the Masters went forward into the weekend without its biggest cash cow.
After huddling throughout the morning in search of a way to keep Woods on the course, tournament officials twirled their metaphorical handlebar mustaches, stared at the stack of metaphorical dollar bills and promptly stuck their metaphorical feet so far down their metaphorical mouths that their spleens could go for a walk.
They concocted a fable tailored to an obscure two-year-old ruling by the U.S. Golf Association that a player can have penalty strokes added afterward when facts were “not reasonably presented” at the time of scorecard signing.
What makes Saturday’s ruling even more slippery is the fact it came the morning after Guan Tianlang became the first golfer in Masters history to be assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play. On a day when everyone needed more than six hours to finish their rounds, Tianlang was made the scapegoat. This happened despite the fact he was in a threesome with 61-year-old Ben Crenshaw, who would put together a round north of 80.
Tianlang is a 14-year-old amateur from China who is playing in his first PGA event while making history as the youngest player to tee off at the Masters. Officials were on top of Tianlang throughout the day, following the rulebook to the tiniest detail. They warned him precisely when the rules said to warn him. They penalized him precisely when they were supposed to.
Oh, well. As Woods said Friday when asked about it, “Rules are rules.”
According to Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters competition committee, we’re supposed to believe those same officials were looking the other way when Woods was making his miscue, then didn’t know the rule when initially confronted with the evidence
Ridley detailed the events that led up to their Saturday morning ruling in a rambling, confusing and sometimes contradicting statement.
Ridley said it took a television viewer to alert their crackerjack, eagle-eyed army of officials to the improper drop. He said those same officials then determined Woods did nothing wrong in marking it as a one-stroke penalty.
In essence, Ridley said it was only after Woods himself talked about what he did in television interviews that these same hawkish officials — who could recite every word of the rules that applied to Tianlang — suddenly found their rule books.
Understand, golf has about a billion rules on its books. Woods is one of the golfers you can take to the bank as a rule-follower. If he says he didn’t know the rule, then OK. Sort of explains why he blabbered about it on ESPN.
But what excuse do these tournament officials have?
Ridley prattled on and on about how his folks committed the faux pas, not Tiger. Fine. But the rule that allows for a two-stroke penalty instead of a disqualification is utterly arbitrary and in place solely to play favorites.
Going strictly by what happened on Friday, even if you take everyone at their word, Woods did something illegal, then signed an incorrect scorecard. The fact no one apparently knew about it is irrelevant.
As Tianlang said on Saturday when asked about Woods’ situation, “Rules are rules”
Ratings improve from 50 to 100 percent on Sundays when Woods plays. Officials clearly were going to look the other way until a pesky television viewer alerted them to the misdeed. Even then, they planned to ignore their rulebook. Then Woods goes on television and made it obvious. No hiding from that.
Woods should have slept in on Saturday and enjoyed a late breakfast with Lindsey Vonn.
Disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard is a ridiculous rule. Perhaps in the offseason, the rules committee can modify it.
What happened Saturday was oily. Officials concocted a fairy tale, bending reality and playing favorites for the sake of the almighty dollar. They should all be fitted for the Monopoly Man’s monocle.
So, as we all try and solve the mystery of how a random television viewer had the competition committee on speed dial and come up with a real life instance in which we can walk up to our boss, tell him we’re breaking company rules and get a raise, let’s applaud the Masters competition committee for looking dumb in the face and doing something dumber.