I've been asked many times about Tiger Woods since he was assessed the penalty Saturday morning, and there's only one thing I have to say: It doesn't matter what I think. And it doesn't matter what you think, or what the players think, or what the media thinks. The only opinion that matters has already been voiced. It added two strokes to his score and sent him out to play the weekend.
In golf, we have a rules committee, and situations like this are exactly why. When a referee makes a ruling, you have to accept it. It doesn't matter what the commenters on the side say, so why make comments? It makes no difference who thinks Woods should have been disqualified, or who thinks he should have withdrawn. We have to abide the decision. That's how we play golf. Augusta made the final verdict: Tiger broke a rule, and he took his penalty exactly how it was given. No talking can change it, and amen to that.
In sport today, no one wants to accept authority. They want to fight it and question it endlessly. Myself, I don't question it, because I have no need to. That's why we have the USGA and R&A, to decide and rule on these things. When I played sports as a young man in school, if the umpire said you were out, you walked away. Today, everyone feels compelled to argue the point.
It seems like the players are the only ones willing to accept it. Tiger took the penalty he was given. Then he went and played golf. Like Tianlang Guan did yesterday. You have to tip your cap to the way the 8th grader handled the penalty he was assessed. I've never cheered for a man to make a cut like I did that boy! He submitted himself to the rules, and he knew that the referee was not wrong for penalizing him, though there must have been a better way to handle the situation. You have to be consistent! Don't compare two separate rules incidents that happened Friday simply because of when they happened. Guan's penalty was the first of its kind on Tour in 18 years, even though we could all name hundreds of players who have gone over the time allotted to hit their shots. Oh well — all's well that ends well, and thank goodness for it. If he missed the cut, it would have caused the tournament immeasurable harm. Happily, he's playing the weekend. The game needs an injection of excitement, and we all need these kinds of minor miracles from time to time.
One aspect of Tiger's penalty strikes me as unfair: the role of television. The violation was phoned in by a viewer at home, and that's a problem. I don't think people should be able to phone in rules advice any more than a fan should be able to issue a red card from the stands of a soccer match. Can you call into a basketball game to say someone was out of bounds? That sounds ridiculous. You defer to the local authorities; that's how sport has always worked.
With golf, it's even more unfair, since so few players are shown on the telecast. If, say, 10 percent of the field is being scrutinized by the public, then that's not a level playing field. Players are very honest in competition, and officials are very honest in enforcing the rules — they do a wonderful job. Someone phoning in "help" from home only makes the game less equitable.
It's a shame we have to talk about such things when so many guys are playing tremendous golf. I look at the leaderboard and instantly see 10 names who can win, although I'd add that anyone within seven strokes has a chance at the green jacket. In 1978, I won it coming from seven behind on Sunday. I had to shoot a 64-with a 30 on the back nine-to do it. I don't think you can do much better than that on this course. Whoever gets the hottest putter going will take it. But the guys at the top better watch their backs and listen for those Sunday roars. Because I think Tiger — despite all the distractions relating to the rules — is going to give it one hell of a run. GARY PLAYER MASTERS DIARY: How Would China React To Guan's Penalty? GARY PLAYER MASTERS DIARY: How I Out-Drove Jack GARY PLAYER MASTERS DIARY: What Really Happens at Champions Dinner GARY PLAYER MASTERS DIARY: The World's Greatest Driving Range GARY PLAYER MASTERS DIARY: Coming to Augusta Is Like Coming Home Photo: John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated