KAPALUA, Hawaii – Camilo Villegas likely had different designs on how he’d spend his 29th birthday on Maui. Instead, he got to the Plantation golf course at Kapalua Friday morning to prepare for the second round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions only to be informed he wouldn’t be playing.
Technically, Villegas was disqualified for Rule 6-6d (signing for a wrong score) after Round 1 of the TOC. (He signed for a double-bogey 7 at 15 and a first-round 72.) The discrepancy in score was the result of a rules infraction Villegas committed while on the 15th hole. As his chip to the raised green at the par-5 hole began to roll back to his feet, Villegas used his club to sweep away some turf debris caused by his divot.
Rule 23-1 states a player cannot remove a loose impediment that might influence the movement of his ball (When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed). The penalty for the violation is two strokes.
With the penalty, Villegas made 9 on the hole; he signed for double-bogey 7.
The PGA Tour was notified of a possible rules violation by a viewer who’d seen the opening-round telecast on Golf Channel, which no doubt will stoke a long-lingering debate: Should a golf tournament, in effect, be governed by people witnessing infractions on television?
Villegas, according to PGA Tour vice-president of rules Slugger White, had no problem with the ruling.
“It makes me sick that it wasn’t recognized prior to him signing his card,” White said. “I took him down there (to the television compound) and showed him the decision. Showed him the rule. He said, ‘That’s fine.’ He could not have been better. He’s a big man.”
In a statement released by the tournament, Villegas said, “While it’s obviously a disappointing way to start the season, obviously the rules are the rules, and when something like this happens, it’s important to me that you’re respectful of the game and the people involved.”
The disqualification of Villegas fell one day after defending champion Geoff Ogilvy (12 stitches in his right index finger) withdrew, leaving the event with 32 players. Five players who qualified chose not to play. Ogilvy and Villegas will share unofficial 33rd place money ($53,500).
On the heels of a season that had several high-profile rules situations, most notably a two-stroke penalty that cost Dustin Johnson his spot in a playoff at the PGA Championship, the Tour has rekindled another issue just one day into its 2011 season: Should TV viewers be allowed to report infractions (often after the round is over) and have an impact on the competition?
It also raises the debate whether some players are under more scrutiny than others because they receive more TV time. A Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson certainly is going to be shown much more than a lesser-named player finishing in the bottom half of the leaderboard.
White said the Tour even experimented with putting a rules official in the TV booth in the past, but it deemed it better to have that official on the golf course than sitting watching a telecast when most times, either no infractions happen or players simply call penalties on themselves.
“We’re playing a gentleman’s game and I think we’re trying to protect our field,” said White. “Our fuduciary is there. I think it’s just one of those things.”
White’s meeting with Villegas at least ended on a lighter note.
“I did wish him Happy Birthday,” said White. “I said, ‘How many?’ He said, ‘Twenty-nine.’ I said, ‘Geez, 29 … I have shoes older than that. We did have a little bit of a laugh.”
Villegas is expected to play next week at the Sony Open.