Wednesday, January 17, 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 If he had withdrawn, as some of his critics demanded, he would have been written off as a whiner who was pouting because he was penalized.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.

Patton Kizzire beats James Hahn in marathon Sony Open playoff

Patton Kizzire beats James Hahn in marathon Sony Open playoff

HONOLULU — A day after a false alarm caused some panic at the Sony Open, there was more drama — of a much more benign sort.Patton Kizzire made par on the tournament-record sixth playoff hole Sunday to beat James Hahn and win his second PGA Tour title...
Published: 01/14/18
False alarm on missile launch triggers anxiety at PGA Tour event in Hawaii

False alarm on missile launch triggers anxiety at PGA Tour event in Hawaii

HONOLULU — Charles Howell was eating breakfast in his hotel when the restaurant at the Kahala started buzzing. Everyone had their phones. Everyone received the same push alert. "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS...
Published: 01/13/18
Brian Harman extends good play in Hawaii, takes Sony Open lead

Brian Harman extends good play in Hawaii, takes Sony Open lead

HONOLULU — Different islands, vastly different golf courses, same good play from Brian Harman. One week after Harman shared the 36-hole lead at Kapalua, he ran off three straight birdies and closed with a 15-foot eagle putt for 7-under 63 and a three...
Published: 01/12/18
Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson share lead at PGA’s Sony Open in Hawaii

Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson share lead at PGA’s Sony Open in Hawaii

HONOLULU — Zach Johnson and Chris Kirk kept clean cards on a gorgeous day and each shot 7-under 63 Thursday to share the lead after the first round of the Sony Open. Jordan Spieth wasn’t as fortunate. Spieth hit four trees with four shots on the par-...
Published: 01/11/18
Dustin Johnson romps to 8-shot victory in Hawaii

Dustin Johnson romps to 8-shot victory in Hawaii

KAPALUA, Hawaii — A new year brought out the best in Dustin Johnson, who powered his way to 8-under 65 and an eight-shot victory Sunday in the Tournament of Champions. In a field that featured the top-five players in the world, Johnson made a strong ...
Published: 01/07/18
Missouri senior uses playoff birdie to win New Year’s Invitational in St. Petersburg

Missouri senior uses playoff birdie to win New Year’s Invitational in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — Cold and windy conditions didn’t affect Hayden Buckley last year when he won the New Year’s Invitational, and they didn’t affect him again this year in the 92nd edition of the event.The University of Missouri senior repeated as champ...
Published: 01/07/18

Dustin Johnson surges into lead at Tournament of Champions

KAPALUA, Hawaii — Dustin Johnson holed out with a wedge for eagle, made birdie on every par 5 and powered his way to 7-under 66 to build a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Tournament of Champions. Coming off his lone bogey from a poor ...
Published: 01/06/18
Tiger Woods’ return includes Torrey Pines, Rivera

Tiger Woods’ return includes Torrey Pines, Rivera

Tiger Woods is playing twice in California over the next six weeks as he begins another comeback on the PGA Tour from back surgery. Woods announced Thursday that he will play the Farmers Insurance Open on Jan. 25 at Torrey Pines, the San Diego course...
Published: 01/04/18