Tiger says he’d never phone in a rules violation … so why didn’t he withdraw from the Masters?

May 13, 2013

Tiger Woods said the other day that he does not make a call when he's watching TV and sees Kobe Bryant travel and the refs miss it. He also said he would not call in if he saw a rules infraction on TV in a golf tournament.

Really? Because the only thing that kept him in the Masters last month was a phone call from a TV viewer. If he doesn't believe in call-ins, it makes you wonder why he continued to play.

It was the call from David Eger, the Champions Tour golfer and former USGA and PGA Tour official, that saved Woods from being disqualified from the Masters. The phone call had nothing to do with why Woods had a rules problem last month. The root of the whole problem was Woods's improper drop followed by his detailed description of it to ESPN. What the call did was provide a scenario by which Masters officials assessed Woods a two-shot penalty, instead of the DQ he would have received without that call.

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On one level, this whole complicated mess can really be reduced to one sentence: Woods made a mistake on the drop, Fred Ridley of Augusta National made a mistake in his review of the drop, and the Masters, seeking to make things right, assessed Woods with a two-shot penalty.

Woods continued to play because, he said, the Rules of Golf allowed him to continue to play. No doubt he's correct about that.

You might say this whole matter has been talked to death. You might say it's bizarre that TV viewers can call in suspected rules violations. Many share that view, Woods apparently among them. On Tuesday Woods said, "I don't ever see myself calling in and saying that Kobe traveled, or an offensive lineman held. But it's our sport. That's what we've done and we've accepted it. Certain groups are going to get more heat than others just because they're on TV. It is what it is."

But comparing televised NBA games and televised PGA Tour events is like comparing a pillow and a marble. In an NBA game, there are three officials watching 10 players, all of whom are trying to get away with whatever they can on a court that measures 94' by 18'. Golf is played on a 150-acre field and the players, one per acre on average. That field has no refs. What it has is officials there to help the player turn in an accurate scorecard. The more people helping the cause, the more likely the returned cards will be accurate.

Of course, the ultimate obligation for an accurate scorecard belongs to the player. Davis Love III said the other day, "I think if a rule is broken, no matter how you find out about it, it's good for the game. It's protecting the field."

Besides, if a player is playing by the rules, he has nothing to worry about.

Maybe the options for a ball that goes into a water hazard are too complicated. Maybe, in the interest of simplifying the rules, the golfer should just proceed to a drop area. Golf's legal minds in St. Andrews and Far Hills can debate that. While they're at it, if they reduce the out-of-bounds penalty to just stroke, and not distance, nobody will shed a tear and the game will move slightly faster.

But the role of the observer in tournament golf is critical. Woods says he would not call in if he saw an apparent violation while watching on TV. What would he do if he were a TV commentator? What would he do if he were a spectator at a U.S. Amateur? What would he do if he saw a violation in his own group? In his own play?

The TV viewer, the spectator, the golfer in the tournament, they all have the ability to protect the field and the individual golfer. In so doing, they enrich the game.

If catch-me-if-you-can becomes the operating principle of golf, you can be sure the Royal Bank of Scotland and Ford and all the rest will show less interest in supporting the game.

Woods was asked the other day, "Assuming you were watching golf on television and you saw a clear violation, would you ever consider calling in?"

"No," Woods said.

Given that, it makes you wonder why he didn't withdraw from the Masters last month, because the only thing that kept him in it was a call from a TV viewer.