Going The Rounds: Pundits are off the course in terms of Tiger’s Masters penalty

Imagine you are driving at precisely the speed limit when another motorist, under the impression that the limit is lower on that highway, calls the State Patrol.

Noting that you are adhering to the posted limit, the trooper issues no speeding tickets but dings you for a lesser offense. Should you turn in your license and demand to pay a heftier fine because you might have been speeding on another nearby road?

Most drivers would consider that suggestion unthinkable, not to mention downright goofy.

Yet many commentators believed Tiger Woods should have withdrawn from the recently completed the Masters golf tournament for violating a rule that is no longer in effect.

After watching his third shot on the par-5 15th hole clang off the flagstick and into the water during the second round, Woods took what was later determined to be an illegal drop. A television viewer alerted Masters officials to the violation, but no action was taken until Tiger signed his scorecard.

In 2010, that incident would have ended with Woods being disqualified for not adding a two-stroke penalty to his 15th-hole score and signing an incorrect card.

In a rare burst of enlightenment, however, golf’s rulesmakers eliminated the double-jeopardy infraction two years ago. If a violation is discovered after the player signs his or her card, the player is given the appropriate penalty and allowed to continue — provided there was no evidence to indicate the player was knowingly violating the rules.

Tiger was thus docked two strokes but remained in the tourney. He wound up finishing four strokes behind champion Adam Scott.

A surprising number of writers, broadcasters and even a few players were outraged. They called for Woods to withdraw from the tournament, evidently because he would have been DQd under the previous rule.

The logic of this argument escapes me. Rules change in a lot of sports. A player shouldn’t be penalized for following the current ones.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never been a huge fan of Tiger Woods — arguably the greatest player in golf history — off the course. Even prior to his celebrated extra-marital affairs (and he’s hardly the only professional athlete guilty of that offense), he often came across as snappish and self-centered.

But, beyond apparent ignorance of drop-related rules, it’s hard to second-guess him here. Tournament officials, following the rules of the game, said he could complete the tournament. So he did. What’s the problem?

Next up on the rulesmakers’ agenda — before they tackle slow play and anchored putting — should be to ban telephone calls or texts on potential rules violations.

Golf is the only sport that accepts officiating suggestions from spectators — and there’s a good reason why it is in the minority. Through the testimony of on-course personnel and judicious use of video, tournament officials ought to be able to determine rules violations without depending on calls from someone who might be working on his third beer from in front of a television set.

If nothing else, the identity and phone numbers of the callers should be released to the players, so they can express their gratitude over being subjected to penalties and possible disqualification by busybody fans. I bet that would drastically reduce the number of viewer calls pretty quickly.

One reason why the Channel-Changing Police isn’t necessary is that professional golfers follow a self-penalizing code almost unheard of in other sports.

There are numerous stories of top players reporting infractions that no one else notices.

One remarkable but largely forgotten act of sportsmanship occurred during the 1941 PGA Championship.

The PGA was a match-play tournament in those days. The championship match pitted future Hall of Famer Byron Nelson against Vic Ghezzi, a good but not great player from New Jersey who had never won a major title.

Tied after the regulation 36 holes, Nelson and Ghezzi each faced short par putts on the second extra hole, with the balls lying close together.

The rules at the time prohibited players from marking a ball on the greens unless it interfered with the opponent’s stance or stroke. Nelson did not request such a procedure, but accidentally touched Ghezzi’s ball with his foot as he addressed his putt.

The penalty for that infraction was loss of hole, which would have given Ghezzi the match. But Ghezzi refused to accept the penalty, saying he had no intention of winning the championship in such a manner.

That would be similar to Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh insisting upon replaying the final two minutes of the last Super Bowl because he didn’t feel right about winning a world championship tainted by the lack of a pass interference penalty on San Francisco’s final drive.

In any event, PGA officials supported Ghezzi’s position and instructed Nelson to putt. He missed, then Ghezzi made his putt to win the title more legitimately.

While insisting he didn’t intentionally miss, Nelson admitted he was bothered by the prospect of getting away with a rules violation.

“Ghezzi won the match fair and square,” he later said. “He won it fair and square twice.”

Adam Scott won the Masters fair and square. But so would Tiger Woods had he been able to make a few more putts.

Rick Anderson is The Daily World sports editor. He can be reached at (360) 537-3924 or via email at randerson@thedailyworld.com