Once is coincidence. Twice is happenstance. Three times? Ian Fleming called it “enemy action,” but as it relates to Tiger Woods and the Rules of Golf in 2013, it’s a pattern.
On Friday at the BMW Championship, Woods incurred a two-stroke penalty after his round for something that happened on the first hole of his second round. Woods hit his second shot long to the par-4 first, finding his ball amid some brush. While trying to move some debris for a cleaner third shot, his ball moved. Woods either didn’t see it or simply ignored it, but a camera crew with PGA Tour Entertainment didn’t. Their footage cleared showed the ball moving, as well as Woods not replacing the ball to its original position.
Woods was assessed the penalty after the round by PGA Tour rules officials. The world No. 1 was livid. Golfweek reported he punched a wall in anger.
A day later, Woods was adamant that — despite video evidence to the contrary — his ball “oscillated.”
“After seeing the video, I thought the ball just oscillated, and I thought that was it,” Woods said. “I thought that was the end of story. But they (rules officials) saw otherwise. They replayed it again and again and again, and I felt the same way. We had a very good discussion. I’ll end it at that.”
For the uninitiated, click the video for you to judge for yourself. To save you time: As George Costanza once said, it moved.
By comparison, Padraig Harrington was disqualified from the 2011 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship when he did not penalize himself for a ball that he also thought oscillated, albeit on the green.
That ball did move, but its quarter-revolution shift was practically imperceptible to the human eye without the benefit of an extreme close-up. Woods’ ball? Easier to spot.
The Friday incident marks the third time this year Woods has been penalized for a misunderstanding of the Rules of Golf. (There could have been a fourth penalty, but we’ll get to that.)
Conveniently, Woods’ rules travails also began in Abu Dhabi, where he was penalized two shots in the first round of his season-opener when he took relief from a grassy lie in a sandy area. Woods believed the ball to embedded in grass, rather than a grassy area in sand, and subject to relief. Turns out, he wasn’t.
Then at the Masters, Woods incurred a two-stroke penalty for an improper drop. Woods’ third shot at the par-5 15th in the second round struck the flagstick and caromed back into the guarding water hazard. When Woods took relief from the original spot of his third shot, he did not drop as close as possible to that spot, inadvertently admitting as much in comments to the media after the round. It took those words and the phone call of a former pro golfer to Masters officials to incite an investigation, eventually leading to a two-stroke penalty. Woods easily could have been disqualified for not applying the penalty and signing for an incorrect score, but Masters officials determined that wasn’t necessary.
The fourth rules incident, that didn’t result in a penalty, came at The Players Championship. In the final round, Woods’ tee shot to the par-4 14th was pulled well left into the water hazard. Almost immediately after contact, Woods turn away in disgust, not seeing where his ball crossed the margin of the lateral hazard. When Woods took his drop, he had to rely on his playing partner to agree with Woods’ assessment. There was no disagreement, though there easily could have been.
So what’s the problem, Tiger? Why has this happened so often?
Of course, Woods knows there are more cameras on him and his round at any one time than most of the other golfers in the field combined. There are always people watching, not waiting for him to make a mistake, but always watching. Meanwhile, so many players in a PGA Tour event play with a gallery of little more than fans who prefer to stake out one hole all day and their friends and family. The odds of those people paying enough attention to notice another player’s mistake are slim.
Still, Woods — as any pro — is obligated to know and properly apply the Rules of Golf, regardless of how unwieldy they can be to remember (and that’s not said sarcastically). Three times this year, Woods has not. That means Woods needs help. Get a rules official to follow Woods in every round he plays. The man has permanent security detail, so what’s another person? It wouldn’t be special treatment, but rather a way of leveling out the scrutiny Woods receives as the most-popular and most-watched golfer on the planet.
What would have happened if that camera crew wasn’t there? Woods, by his own admission, would not have applied a penalty. He would be two strokes closer to the lead of Jim Furyk, just three behind the newest Mr. 59. That seems just as unfair to Furyk and the field — all vying for critical FedEx Cup points and money — as is the litany eyeballs on every move Woods makes.
It only makes sense, then, that the next time there is a pop rules quiz, Woods has a crib sheet.