Rude: Ultimately, the punishment fit Tiger's crime

Tiger Woods wipes his brow after a par-save at 18 that helped him record a 2-under 70 and sit four shots off the lead.

Tiger Woods wipes his brow after a par-save at 18 that helped him record a 2-under 70 and sit four shots off the lead.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – When it comes to golf rulings, timing can be everything. The Tiger Woods controversy at the Masters illustrates that brightly, or dimly, depending on your perspective.

As it turned out, Woods was fortunate that a television viewer who witnessed his improper play on 15 in the second round called in so quickly. Hence, the Masters rules committee had time to review and clear Woods before he signed his card and, later, after Woods unwittingly admitted playing from a wrong spot, apply a rule (33-7) that sensibly gave him a two-stroke penalty instead of a disqualification.

Had the reporting of the violation and the committee review come after Woods turned in his scorecard, he would have been disqualified for signing for an incorrect score.

Timing, if not clarity and knowledge of the rules, was on Woods’ side. He owes that viewer a big debt of gratitude because he still has a chance to win the Masters. Thanks to three terrific par saves on Nos. 16-18 Saturday, Woods stands four strokes behind 54-hole co-leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera.

There’s some irony in this case, maybe more than we know. Because of his prompt call, the viewer ended up helping rather than hurting the wrong-doer. We do not know the intention of the couch cop. It may have been to honor the game’s rules. It may have been out of anti-Woods sentiment.

It doesn’t matter. Woods was aided as a result. And he was smiling Saturday night because he was still here with hope instead of at home with none.

“I’m right there in the ballgame,” the winner of 14 major championships said after shooting a 70 that featured five birdies and three bogeys. “Those huge three saves ... kept me within range.”

So did that eagle-eye viewer and his quick action.

As Woods finished the 13th hole nearby Saturday, rules officials John Paramor (PGA European Tour) and Mark Russell (PGA Tour) said emphatically that the Masters committee did the right thing in docking Woods two strokes. And they underscored the importance of the timing.

Paramor then presented a wild, fascinating hypothetical situation. It involved a golfer facing a 1-foot putt on the last hole to win the Masters. The player moves his coin a clubhead length out of a playing competitor’s line. But then he forgets to move his mark back and taps in from the wrong spot.

If the violation is reported (by a TV viewer or whomever) before the player signs his scorecard, the penalty is two strokes.

If it is reported right after the player signs his card (for an incorrect score), the player would be disqualified.

If it is reported after the player puts on the green jacket in Butler Cabin, the player is the Masters champion.

“The competition is closed after he puts on the jacket,” Paramor said. “So you can see how important timing is.”

In this matter that took Augusta by hailstorm Saturday, Woods admitted to making a mistake at 15 Friday. Actually he made more than one. His first was not calling in a rules official. The mistake that mattered came after Woods hit his third shot in the water. After dropping, he played his fifth shot from the wrong spot – a couple of yards behind the original spot instead of close to it.

“I’m ticked at what happened,” Woods said.

The Masters rules committee reviewed the matter on video and cleared Woods after getting that telephone call, but no one informed Woods. The men in charge got the review wrong two ways – when not noticing the bad drop on tape and by not talking with Woods when he finished. The committee reviewed the case again after Woods revealed the improper play in a post-round interview. Then, after meeting with Woods early Saturday morning, the Masters correctly applied Rule 33-7 (Disqualification Penalty; Committee Discretion). As competition chairman Fred Ridley said, Woods was “entitled to be protected” from DQ under 33-7 because the committee changed its mind after Round 2 upon getting more information.

“The rules official did a fantastic job and I got a two-shot penalty,” Woods said.

When he finished his third round, Woods was informed that many people, including some older major champions, said he should have been disqualified or withdrawn on his own. Woods responded by saying, “Under the Rules of Golf I can play.”

He said he went to the first tee Saturday “ready to go” and “fired up.” He also teed off in the midst of that swirl of opinions from all corners, apparently almost all of it unbeknownst to him.

The bottom line is that Woods got what he deserved. Truth prevailed. Unlike so many times when the rulebook is applied, the punishment fit the crime. His violation on 15 called for a two-stroke penalty and, after much deliberation and fuss, that’s exactly what he got.

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