Upon Further Review: The Masters REALLY Blew It With the Tiger Woods Ruling

Sorting through the feedback on my earlier posts on the Tiger Woods/Masters rules controversy, I am learning that the essence of the case for waiving the “automatic” disqualification rule for Woods at the Masters was this: 

  • Woods screwed up, and under the Rules of Golf he deserved the 2-stroke penalty for an illegal drop (Rule 26-1), and under normal circumstances he also should have been disqualified from the tournament (Rule 6-6d) for signing a scorecard that did not reflect that penalty; but
  • the Masters rules committee also screwed up, first by conducting a slipshod investigation of David Eger’s TV-based complaint, and then by allowing Woods to post his incorrect score even though the committee had (or should have had) serious doubts about the correctness of that score; and thus
  •  Woods should not be disqualified but should instead be spared under Rule 33-7.  It all comes down to this:  it was the committee’s fault, so Woods gets a pass.

The committee acknowledged that Woods was fully aware of all of the facts of his actions, so he was not eligible for a waiver of the DQ penalty under the new “TV Rule” (Decision 33-7/4.5, which permits waivers where unknown facts come to light via TV and complaints are phoned in by viewers).  But the committee chose to ignore the fact that the TV Rule also provides that waivers are not permitted where – as in the Woods case – the original violation involves ignorance of the rules rather than discovery of new facts.  In the end, despite the clear language of the TV Rule, the committee waived the DQ penalty for Woods because they themselves had caused the problem!  In essence, they said, we should have warned him not to sign the incorrect card, but we didn’t, so it is our fault that he went ahead and signed it.  

Sports fans, think about applying that logic to such rules-infractions as, say, “illegal use of hands” or “defensive pass-interference” in football, or maybe “charging” in basketball:  no warning, no foul.  And maybe think about the next time you see a tour pro searching for a ball he snap-hooked into the woods and his caddy, channeling Oddjob (Goldfinger’s caddy in the match with James Bond), quietly drops another ball from a secret pants pocket and announces, “aha!”  (And hopes no one spots it and warns him he might be penalized.)  You really think pro golfers are more honest than offensive linemen, or have you considered the possibility that the honesty of the golfers might have something to do with the automatic DQ rule?  You don’t think this will tempt players to get away with stuff, knowing they will not be DQ’d if they were not given a warning before signing their card (and that they can always change their card before signing it, if they do get a warning)?  You think anyone will ever again accept a DQ without calling a lawyer and referring to this case?

Here is the exact quote from the committee’s announcement, in which, after admitting that this was not an “unknown facts” case, the committee discloses its own peculiar logic:

The Masters Tournament Committee concluded that its actions taken prior to Woods’ returning his score card created an exceptional individual case that unfairly led to the potential for disqualification.  (high-lighting added for emphasis)

There you have it.  The Committee’s actions “led” to the “potential for DQ” – in other words, the committee caused the signing of the incorrect scorecard!  And that is precisely what the commentators have picked up on.  Here are two examples, quotes from emails I received from a high-profile golf writer:

“Obviously ignorance is not a defense. .. .But, again.. they knew, and they didn’t tell him. They made a mistake, for which 33-7 clearly covers….”

“If we have any information that someone possibly broke a rule, and didn’t bring it to the player’s attention — and then disqualified him later? You couldn’t live with yourself. You have to tell him. This was a committee error.”    (Comment apparently made to the writer by a PGA tour official working with the Masters)

So there you have it. The committee made Woods do it.  It wasn’t his fault.  The dog ate his homework. The Woods ruling was made because Fred Ridley, the rules committee chairman and principal screw-upper, couldn’t live with himself if he followed Decision 33-7/4.5 and DQ’d Woods, after failing to warn Woods that he might have made an illegal drop.   Forget the overall welfare of the game of golf, let’s circle the wagons around Fred Ridley.

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