When Tiger Woods took his drop at the 15th hole in the second round of last year's Masters, the video evidence left no doubt. When Simon Dyson tamped down a spike mark in his line at the BMW Masters last fall, there was no doubt. When Camilo Villegas broke a relatively obscure rule at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in 2010, the outcome was clear.
Not so much with Sergio Garcia on Thursday in the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Garcia was shown on TV in a crouching position, tamping down a mark in his line as Martin Kaymer moved through the frame.
That footage prompted a number of fans to contact the Irish website GolfCentralDaily about the prospect of a rules violation -- the same one that landed Dyson an 18-month probation period after an appearance in front of a European Tour tribunal. If Garcia broke that same rule, Rule 16-1a, then he violated one of the most obvious rules in golf.
The problem was that the footage captured on TV of Garcia was inconclusive at best. No one had showed if the mark could have come from Garcia's ball, which would have been a perfect innocent thing to tamp down after fixing. Still, the footage prompted a few posts on websites around the world, including Golf Digest and GeoffShackelford.com.
Sergio Garcia has given us plenty of reason over the years to doubt the motivations behind his actions. From spitting in cups without reason or remorse to the "fried chicken" incident from last year at the BMW PGA Championship, Garcia has enough of a track record to generate suspicion whenever something dubious happens around him.
However, in this case, Garcia's protestations about being targeted seem legitimate.
"It's fine to call in when you can see that someone has cheated. But to say that about someone without knowing all the facts is wrong," Garcia said, according to Golf Digest. "Being related to that word is the most disgusting thing that can happen to any golfer. So it was a little disappointing. I'm happy it was cleared up with John and I was able to play today."
There was little reason to believe Garcia had cheated given the evidence, but European Tour lead referee John Paramor investigated the issue nevertheless. Garcia was cleared rather quickly after a look at the 18th green on Friday morning where the events unfolded. Paramor, however, seems to misunderstand the media reaction to the clip.
“What I am more concerned about is there are those ready to use the ‘C’ word when the very short video clip does not show what went on prior to Sergio tapping down what was clearly a pitch mark," Paramor said to the website Golf by Tour Miss.
Unfortunately, someone misinformed Paramor that anyone used the word "cheat" in their analysis of the clip -- neither Shackelford, nor Digest. GolfCentralDaily used the word in its headline on the story, but qualified the footage with the very plausible explanation that Garcia gave and Paramor confirmed.
To us at Golf News Net, it didn't seem the video evidence warranted a post that could be seen as speculative, but given the rash of call-in violations in the last four years, as well Garcia's less-than-savory reputation off the course, it's not hard to see what prompted the discussion.
What will fix this entire problem? The world's major tours committing to placing a full-time official in front of a live feed of tournament coverage to spot and penalize rules violations as they happen rather than waiting for a fan to see it unfold on TV.