The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 14, 2013

PGA made the right call in assessing Tiger’s penalty

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

BECKLEY — If you read the paper, or my Twitter or Facebook accounts, you’re well aware that I was lucky enough to spend Wednesday and Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club covering the 77th Masters Tournament and that I spent most of Saturday — while enjoying the action at the Scott Brown Memorial Classic —  wishing I was there and will surely have the same feelings today.

Apparently, a lot of people got the message, because I have somehow become the go-to authority on the tournament. Through tweets, e-mails, phone calls and personal conversations Saturday, I was continually asked my opinion on the Tiger Woods incident that has become the story of the tournament, the 2-stroke penalty that he was assessed well after his second round was over. Since I like golf, cover golf and have a fairly decent understanding of the game, people apparently want to know my opinion. Some don’t care about my opinion, but they do want a better understanding of what the controversy was all about.

For those of you who haven’t asked yet but still want to know, here are my answers to the most common questions.

What happened?

Part of golf’s problem is that it doesn’t explain the rules clearly enough to those who don’t understand the game. That’s what often leads to mass confusion and ill-informed tweets.

Basically, what happened was that Woods hit his third shot at the par-5 15th hole right on target. But the ball bounced off the flagstick, off the green and into the water for a penalty.

Woods had to take a penalty stroke, and his options for his fifth shot were to 1) drop in a designated drop area, 2) drop in front of where his ball first crossed the water or 3) hit another shot from the spot where he hit the first one.

Woods chose the third option and went back to his original spot. But because of what happened the first time he hit it, he decided to hit his next shot from a few yards farther away. His shot landed on the green and he putted in for a bogey.

So, what did he do wrong?

The rules for penalty drops state that if you choose to drop from the original spot, you must drop as close to the original spot as possible. Woods, perhaps confusing that option with the second option, which allows the golfer to move two club lengths from the spot where the ball crossed the hazard, didn’t do that. He dropped from farther back, giving himself a competitive advantage.

Why wasn’t it called right away?

Woods obviously was confused about the rule, so he didn’t call the penalty on himself, as is often the way infractions are enforced on the golf course. After receiving a tip from a television viewer, the Masters rules committee decided to take another look at the shot, and it originally determined that Woods, in fact, did do his best to drop as close to the original spot as possible.

What changed?

In a post-round interview with ESPN, Woods went into detail about the entire hole. In his explanation, he admitted that he hit his penalty shot from a couple yards farther back from the location of his first one. It then became obvious that Woods didn’t do his best to drop from the original spot. The committee reviewed the evidence again and determined that Woods should be penalized.

Was the penalty correct?

Yes. Woods should have received some sort of penalty. He broke a rule and admitted he broke a rule. Even if it was determined after the fact, and even if he didn’t intentionally try to cheat, the rules still apply in golf. It’s not like going back and changing a blocking call to a charge in basketball after the game. Post-round penalties happen all of the time in golf.

Why do some say he should have been disqualified?

The penalty in golf for signing an incorrect scorecard is disqualification. Since Woods should have been assessed a penalty for an illegal drop, the number on his Friday scorecard, which also contained his signature, was incorrect. In many cases, he would have been disqualified.

So, why was he saved?

There’s a fairly recent rule that states that the rules committee can use its discretion and avoid a disqualification if it determines that a player was unaware of a rules infraction when he signed his card. The Masters used this rule to assess Woods the 2-stroke penalty but allow him to play the weekend.

Was this the right call?

No. While I agree that kicking Woods out of the tournament for such a simple mistake is a penalty much too harsh for the crime, that is the way the rule reads. The exception was not made for an instance like this.

The spirit of the rule was not to protect a player who didn’t understand the rule. As is the case in the court system, ignorance of the law is not a defense.

The purpose of the rule was to prevent a player from being penalized when he didn’t know he broke a rule. For example, if a player’s ball moved when he was picking up his ball marker, but he never realized it moved.

To apply the rule to Friday’s scenario, the new rule would have been properly used had Woods thought he went back to the original spot, asked his playing partners if he was at his original spot, received confirmation that he was and then hit. Then, after the fact, video evidence picked up that he was not at the original spot. Although he would have been in violation, he would have been unaware, and therefore signing his scorecard with the wrong number would have only been a 2-stroke penalty.

But that wasn’t the case on Friday. Woods knew he was two yards behind the original spot, and he admitted it in an interview. By the letter of the law, he should have been disqualified.

It’s my belief that if the same thing would have happened to Keegan Bradley or Jason Dufner, he’d be on his couch watching today’s final round.

What happens now?

The ruling has been made, and Woods played his Saturday round. So nothing else can happen with this situation. The only question now will be how Woods’ victory will be received by golf fans and other players, if he should storm to a fifth green jacket today.

I’m not sure it should be, but I am sure that officials need to take another look at this rule and make the language clearer to avoid another situation like this moving forward.

— E-mail: chuffman@ and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.