Call it the Tiger Woods Rule.
The USGA and R&A announced a change to Rule 18 on Tuesday which would have likely absolved Tiger Woods from a 2-stroke penalty he incurred at the BMW Championship in September.
The change to the rule covering a ball moving now stipulates that a player will not be penalized if the ball's movement is not discernible to the naked eye.
Decision 18/4 states:
Decision 18/4 provides that, where enhanced technological evidence (e.g. HDTV, digital recording or online visual media, etc.) shows that a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location, the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time. The R&A and the USGA have issued a Joint Statement on the Use of Video and other Visual Evidence to further explain the governing bodies’ position on the use of this technology.
The change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2014.
Woods was penalized two shots at Conway Farms in the second round after PGA Tour Entertainment freelance cameramen showed video footage of the world No. 1's ball had moved (and not returned to its original position) while he was clearing brush around it following an errant approach shot. PGA Tour rules officials were made aware of the footage during the round, then viewed it with Woods after he completed play. Despite Woods' protestations that the ball oscillated and returned to its original position, the PGA Tour declared Woods must call a 2-shot penalty on himself of face disqualification.
This new rule does not prohibit fans from calling in rules violations in professional tournaments, but does create a category of violations that only an armchair official could observe that will not be held against a player. Blatant violations of the Rules of Golf observed by fans could still lead to penalties or disqualification.
In total, the USGA and R&A announced 87 alterations to the rules as part of their biennial process, all covered in "Decisions on the Rules of Golf 2014-15". A trio of other noteworthy changes include:
- New Decision 14-3/18 confirms that players can access reports on weather conditions on a smartphone during a round without breaching the Rules. Importantly, this new Decision also clarifies that players are permitted to access information on the threat of an impending storm in order to protect their own safety.
- Revised Decision 25-2/0.5 helps to clarify when a golf ball is considered to be embedded in the ground through the use of illustrations.
- Revised Decision 27-2a/1.5 allows a player to go forward up to approximately 50 yards without forfeiting his or her right to go back and play a provisional ball.