Further Review: Exceptional mistakes made at Masters
Column by Ken Cohen
May 3, 2013 So the USGA and R&A issued a joint statement a few days ago regarding the ruling made at The Masters involving Tiger Woods. It was a 2,000-word attempt to explain away the complete failure and abrogation of responsible officiating by The Master Committee. If I had to sum up what I read and I read the statement twice the USGA and R&A essentially conclude that the Masters Committee royally messed up several times in handling the situation, and Tiger Woods really should have been disqualified.
Of course, they didn't come right out and state that since the chairman of the Masters Rules Committee is Fred Ridley, a former USGA president and board member. Not only did they not want to embarrass one of its own, but supposedly there was a USGA official on the committee as well. The first callout by the USGA was the Masters Committee's poor judgment in initially reviewing the video and determining there was no penalty. The USGA states:
"Woods did not drop and play a ball “as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played, as required under Rule 26-1a. The Rules do not define ‘as nearly as possible’ in terms of a specific measured distance, because the conditions unique to each situation can affect how near to the original spot it is possible to drop a ball and because dropping a ball is an imprecise act. But in this type of situation, in which that original spot was clearly identifiable as being just behind the back edge of the divot hole created by Woods’ previous stroke and in which there were no other unusual circumstances, ‘as nearly as possible’ means that the player must attempt to drop the ball on or next to (but not nearer the hole than) that spot. Woods did not do so."
I've questioned this since the incident first unfolded how could anyone with or without knowledge of the rules look at the video and conclude that Woods dropped the ball as near to the original spot as possible? It wasn't even close and now we know that the television viewer who called in about the possible wrong drop was former PGA Tour rules official David Eger.
You would think that if someone like Eger is calling in doubting the drop, Ridley and the Masters Committee, looking at the same video as Eger, would have to see very convincing evidence to the contrary. At the very least, they would have asked Tiger about what he did. It's been reported that Ridley actually responded to Eger that the drop was closer than it looked and to question it would be splitting hairs.
That's exactly what rules situations and judgments often come down to a ball moving a 1/1000 of an inch or a pebble barely being touched on a backswing in a bunker. Whether you like it or not, golf's rules are all about splitting hairs. For Ridley to say otherwise, certainly makes you wonder about his entire thought process during the Woods ordeal.
And that gets to the second mistake the Masters Committee made according to the USGA statement. "In hindsight, the Committee determined that its initial ruling was incorrect, as well as that it had erred in resolving this question without first seeking information from Woods and in failing to inform Woods of the ruling."
Ultimately, the USGA and R&A agreed that the Masters Committee was within their rights to waive the disqualification penalty because of Rule 33-7, which essentially gives a Rules Committee ultimate power to do whatever it wants in cases of disqualification. That rule states that in exceptional individual cases, the penalty of disqualification can be waived. We have learned from this situation, that a Committee's ignorance and intransigence is considered an exceptional case. The USGA and R&A also seemed to suggest that the multiple mistakes made by the Masters Committee were exceptional as well.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.