Maginnes On Tap: Rules change too late for Simpson

Bubba Watson, right, hugs Webb Simpson after winning the Zurich Classic golf tournament on the second playoff hole.

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Sunday was indeed the Tour's best final round in a decades. Interesting that if next year were to unfold exactly as this year did with the only difference being the changes brought forth by the USGA and R&A to the rules of golf, the entire complexity of the year would be different.

No one could have known when Webb Simpson's ball took a half turn on the 15th green Sunday afternoon at the Zurich Classic that so many things would be set into motion that would ultimately decide the fate of the year.

Simpson had already addressed his tap in for par when the ball rotated just enough for Simpson to stop. The cameras didn't pick it up but Webb saw it and, with the one-shot penalty, his lead was gone. He lost the tournament in a playoff to Bubba Watson. It is likely that incident had a lot of influence on the latest amendment to the rules of golf. The new rule reads:

• A new exception is added which exonerates the player from penalty if their ball moves after it has been addressed when it is known or virtually certain that they did not cause the ball to move. For example, if it is a gust of wind that moves the ball after it has been addressed, there is no penalty and the ball is played from its new position.

This rule, announced Monday, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012 or about seven months too late for Simpson. The other two rules changes will have little effect on golf at the highest level. One has to do with raking a bunker before you play a shot from it, you are allowed to do that now. Tour players don't rake bunkers anyway. This could speed up play, which is always a good thing. The other rule states that if a player arrives late for his tee time but is within five minutes of it, he will be penalized but will not be disqualified. This rule has been in effect on the PGA Tour for years.

It is that first rule that will have an immediate, and indeed positive effect on the PGA Tour. Every player who has spent time playing professional golf has had a ball move either immediately before they addressed it or a mere second after they have put their putter down. Jack Nicklaus never grounded his putter behind the ball thus if his ball moved prior to contact he was never penalized. That is just one of the nuances of his game that players still marvel at today.

The rules change is a good one and perhaps an indication that the rules of golf are becoming more user friendly, if not easier to understand. While there are slightly more people who understand the rules of golf than the tax code, those who use both are generally doing so blindly. An attempt by the R&A and the USGA to have the rules make sense seems reasonable enough.

The wheels of change at the USGA tend to move at a bureaucratic pace and the timing of this latest change comes a little too late for Simpson (although it appears he gets to keep his belly putter a while longer). It is unfair to say that he would have won the Zurich Classic if his ball hadn't moved. It is unfair to suggest that with his first win at the Wyndham three-and-a-half months later that he played with so much confidence that there were very few players in the world that could beat him. Imagine if he had gotten that confidence back in the spring.

What is fair to say is that if he had won the Zurich Classic and everything else had played out as it did on the PGA Tour, we would have been deprived of the season's final Sunday heroics by Donald and Simpson. As a matter of fact, it seems pretty unlikely that either player would have been there if Simpson had three trophies on his mantle and a significant lead on the money title. But the fates intervened in the favor of golf and golf fans.

If you were able to break away from Tim Tebow's return to Florida on Sunday long enough to see Donald prove that he is indeed the best player in the world, you saw one heck of a show. Some might even say it was worthy of the setting.

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