Friday, May 25, 2018

Mild punishment fits Tiger's Masters crime


There are two ways to pronounce "Tiger Woods." One of them sounds like poetry. The other sounds like profanity.

There are two ways to look at his legacy. One of them involves the tournaments he has won. The other is about what he lost during his scandal days.

Likewise, there are two ways to view the latest rules skirmish at Augusta National, featuring Woods. One, you think poor Tiger has suffered enough. Two, you think Tiger is a cheater and, as such, should be tossed out of the Masters on his niblick.

And so it was that Woods walked onto the course and played in front of groups holding both views at the Masters on Saturday. Woods said he was ready to play, but the truth of it was that he looked uneven. Still, he shot 2-under 70, and he is within four shots of the lead entering today's final round. Yet in the end, he was asked why he didn't withdraw.

It was that kind of day for Woods. If he had withdrawn, as some of his critics demanded, he would have been written off as a whiner who was pouting because he was penalized. Instead, he swallowed his punishment and went about his business, and for that, there will be those who suggest Tiger is somehow getting away with something.

And so it goes. The Tiger backers will do a fine job of backing Tiger, and his critics will do a fine job of criticizing him. Both sides have been at this for long enough to know their lines.

On the other hand, here's a thought: Saturday, at least, the folks at Augusta National got it right (one day after they got it wrong).

As a penalty, two strokes added to his Friday score feels about right. Deciding not to disqualify seems about right. Tiger with a chance, even a lessened one, seems about right.

Waiting a day to figure it out? That still seems wrong.

The trouble started the day before. Woods' approach to 15 hit the flag stick — a bit of William Tell-type accuracy — then ricocheted down the green and into the water.

This left Woods with a few choices, profanity being the first to consider. After that, Woods could have used the drop zone, or he could have dropped from as close to the original shot as possible. Woods chose the second option, but as he admitted in interviews later, he moved back "a couple of yards" before doing so. He hit a fine shot and settled for a bogey then moved along.

A television viewer — the same ones who scream "pass interference" in front of their sets during the fall — noticed something wasn't right, however. So he called Augusta National, and the next thing you know, the Masters committee was reviewing the drop on its monitors.

It found … nothing. It said … nothing. It did … nothing. No one said a word to Woods, who signed his scorecard and went about his night, presumably discussing the slalom with Lindsey Vonn.

Later, Masters rules guru Fred Ridley got a call about Tiger's curious statements about dropping the ball farther back rather than getting it as close as possible to the original shot. Was Tiger really trying to gain an edge?

So they called Tiger in on Saturday morning. By then, disquali­fication was no longer on the table. After all, the error was as much the committee's as it was Tiger's. So it invoked Rule 33-7, a 2-year-old rule that says it doesn't have to DQ a golfer for signing an incorrect scorecard if he didn't know he broke a rule.

"I wasn't thinking," Woods said of the drop. "I was still a little ticked off at what happened, and I was just trying to figure, okay, I need to take some yardage off this shot. That's all I was thinking. It was pretty obvious I didn't drop it in the right spot."

At this point, I am certain you are thinking what I am thinking. A television viewer? In what other sport does this happen? You watch the Lightning take a penalty, and who do you call? You watch the Bucs get called for holding, and what recourse do you have? You watch the Rays take a strike that darn near hits the third-base coach in the ribs, and what do you do? But in golf, everyone watching TV is an official, and no one is shown on TV more than Tiger Woods.

After that, you are probably shaking your head over the committee's actions on Friday. It could have headed off the controversy if it had acted then. If it had walked up to Tiger afterward and said, "Sorry, but that's gonna cost you a couple of strokes," well, the conversation about it is done by dinner. Instead, this dominated the Saturday conversation.

Then, there is this. The rule is so darned vague as written. How far is close? A foot? A club length? Two yards?

"The rule doesn't prescribe what is right and what is wrong," Ridley said. "Clearly, it would have been better if Tiger had dropped the ball closer."

And so Tiger moves around the course, some bogeys, some birdies. Should he be here? Did he get an undue break? Or did he fall into bad luck because of an excellent shot?

"I can't really control what the perception might be," Ridley said. "All I can say is this tournament is about integrity. Our founder, Bobby Jones, was about integrity. And if this had been John Smith from wherever, he would have gotten the same thing. It is the right ruling under these circumstances."

That ruling was too lenient or too strict, too hard-hearted or too hard-headed. It depends on your point of view.

With Tiger, it often does.