Michaux: Tiger Woods should do the honorable thing
Tiger Woods can’t win this week even if he wins. So for his own good and that of the Masters Tournament, if he made an improper drop it would be better if he voluntarily disqualified himself before his Saturday afternoon tee time.
In a colossal accumulation of failures by all parties to properly apply the rules of golf regarding Woods’ drop on the 15th hole Friday, the Masters rules committee came up with a hybrid solution that retroactively assessed Woods a two-shot penalty yet kept him in the tournament despite signing an incorrect scorecard.
It is far from a Solomonic compromise and has sparked outrage and debate around the world a day after the tournament docked a 14-year-old amateur a stroke for playing too slowly. Shrieks of favoritism will abound and never go away if Woods rallies from five strokes behind and wins his 15th major. It will forever be tainted.
This has nothing to do with how much the rules committee screwed up by initially clearing Woods without asking for his input, or whether he intended to gain a competitive advantage, or whether it’s even fair that such a bad break is worthy of such a harsh penalty.
The point is, Woods’ words made it clear that he didn’t fully understand the rules that applied to his drop, and that’s indictment enough. Ignorance of the rules is not an excuse and doesn’t warrant the DQ exemption implemented by golf’s governing bodies after a meeting at Augusta National in 2011.
That used to be all that mattered in golf.
These are USGA Executive Director Mike Davis’ words after the discretionary clause was added two years ago after high-profile, phoned-in violations cost Padraig Harrington in Abu Dhabi and Camilo Villegas in Kapalua.
“There had to be facts arise after the scorecard had been returned that the player either couldn’t possibly have known about or, in the committee’s judgment, couldn’t have reasonably known before he returned the scorecard,” Davis said. “That’s the key here. We are dealing with fact-based issues. It’s not issues dealing with not knowing the rules.”
Davis said Villegas would still have been disqualified for not knowing the rules about sweeping away divots from the area his ball was rolling to.
“Ignorance of the rules will not in this particular case get a player off disqualification if he breaches a rule, doesn’t include the penalty and then returns a scorecard,” Davis said.
Based on Woods’ comments about dropping the ball 2 yards further away for strategic reasons, he clearly wasn’t trying to drop the ball “as near as possible” to the previous spot. This is what prompted the rules officials’ second inquiry after initially deeming the rule proper based only on video evidence.
For clarity’s sake, let’s walk through this again.
Woods caught a wicked break when his wedge to the 15th green hit near the bottom of the pin and caromed into the pond. He dropped behind his original spot, hit his fifth shot to 3 feet and walked away with bogey.
The Rules of Golf gave Woods three options for his drop: the designated drop zone, on the line keeping the point where the ball entered the water between his drop point and the pin, or “near as possible” to his original spot.
Woods dismissed the drop area, and he said after the round that he couldn’t see what happened because of the setting sun in his eyes.
“Well, I went down to the drop area. That wasn’t going to be a good spot, because obviously it’s into the grain. It’s really grainy there,” he said. “And it was a little bit wet. So it was muddy and not a good spot to drop.
“So I went back to where I played it from, but I went 2 yards further back and I took, tried to take 2 yards off the shot of what I felt I hit. And that should land me short of the flag and not have it either hit the flag or skip over the back. I felt that that was going to be the right decision to take off four right there. And I did. It worked out perfectly.”
Perhaps not as perfectly as he thought. His probable birdie went from 6 to an 8. His potential 36-hole lead went to a tie for seventh, then a tie for 19th. His task got that much harder, but not insurmountable by any means, just five strokes behind leader Jason Day starting Saturday.
Woods is not the first player to get a favorable ruling that is counter to the written rules at the Masters. Arnold Palmer famously objected to his initial ruling regarding an embedded ball on the 12th hole in 1958. He appealed and played a second ball, improving his score from double bogey to par. A few holes later, Augusta National officials confirmed he could keep the par, and he wound up winning his first green jacket by a stroke.
Ken Venturi, Palmer’s playing partner that day who finished tied for fourth two shots back, still vehemently contends that Palmer broke the rules by playing his two balls consecutively instead of concurrently, as the rules stipulated.
The Woods ruling has an even greater precedence established in the 1960 Masters with Dow Finsterwald.
In the first round, Finsterwald took a practice putt on the fifth green after finishing the hole. The rules of golf at the time did not ban the practice, but the Masters followed the PGA Tour rules that prohibited it in tournament play.
The next day, Finsterwald started to take another practice putt on the first hole when playing partner Billy Casper yelled for him to stop. Casper explained the local rule and showed him the written information printed on the scorecards.
Finsterwald immediately informed rules officials of his violation a day earlier, and they told him to play on and said they would take it up with the rules committee. After his round, tournament officials decided to retroactively assess him a two-shot penalty on the previous round, turning his 69 into 71. But he was not disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard, with officials saying his violation did not affect his play on that hole and that “the circumstances were unusual enough” to waive the rules.
Woods has every right to keep playing the 2013 Masters based on the committee’s ruling and its own set of “unusual circumstances.”
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do. His reputation and legacy would be more highly regarded if he did the honorable thing and disqualified himself.