Friday, April 19, 2013

Top 10 Tiger Rulings

            Amidst the controversy surrounding last week’s ruling that depending on whom you talk to, either went dramatically in favor of or against Tiger Woods, let’s take a look back over the years of various rules situations that have involved the world’s number one.

10.            Whoops! Stevie Drops 9-iron into the Water

During the 2006 Ryder Cup, Steve Williams was dipping his towel into the water to get it wet.  He was also holding onto the 9-iron Tiger had previously used.  In one of the funnier Rules incidents of the recent past, he accidentally drops it into the water, well out of reach. 

Decision 4-3/10 tells us that a player is not entitled to replace a club that has been lost during the round.  Because Tiger had started with 14 clubs, he was not permitted to add another club to replace it either.  If he had done so he would have been in breach of Rule 4-4a for selecting 15 clubs for play during his round and would have been subject to a two-stroke penalty for each hole he carried the additional club. 

As it goes, he played on without the 9-iron, which was eventually returned to him by a zealous fan and he won the match against Robert Karlsson 3 & 2.

9.            Tiger in a Tree

Earlier this year during the third round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, Tiger managed to get his ball stuck in a palm tree after his tee shot on the 17th hole.  When Tiger’s ball ended in the tree, if he could not identify it himself he had only one option – return to the tee under penalty of stroke and distance under Rule 27-1.  By definition if the ball is not identified as his within 5 minutes, the original ball is lost and he must proceed under Rule 27-1.  (Note also, under Rule 28 – Ball Unplayable – he is not required to identify the ball if he proceeds under Rule 28a, which is proceeding under stroke and distance). 
            If he could identify the ball as his, he would be permitted to drop the ball under Rule 28c using the point on the ground directly beneath where the ball lay in the tree as the reference point for taking relief (see Decision 28/11).
            Tiger used binoculars to identify the golf ball, which is permissible even if he didn’t retrieve the golf ball (see Decision 27/14).  Because he identified the ball he was entitled to declare the ball unplayable and proceed under Rule 28c, dropping a ball within two club-lengths of the spot on the ground directly underneath the ball in the tree under penalty of one stroke. He made bogey on 17, but ended the day with a four-stroke lead going into the final round.

8.            The (Im)movable Cables

            During the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoutsie, Tiger’s ball on the 10th hole came to rest on top of some television cables.  Cables are typically considered movable obstructions.  Since his ball came to rest on top of them, he was entitled to proceed under Rule 24-1 by lifting the ball, removing the cables and dropping the ball on the spot directly underneath where it originally lay without penalty.
            The Rules Official with the group ruled that it would be impracticable for Tiger to remove the cables and gave Tiger relief for an Immovable obstruction.  He had Tiger proceed under Rule 24-2b by dropping within one club-length of his nearest point of relief.  This gave Tiger a much better lie and an option in the area he could drop in.
            A TV reporter later moved the cables without much effort and complained to the R & A that the Official had ruled incorrectly.  The R & A sided with their official and that was the end of that.

7.            Pace of Play

            During the final round of the 2009 WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, Tiger and Padraig Harrington were having a spectacular battle for the title.  According to officials, they were 13 minutes behind pace on the 12th hole and then come the 16th, they were 17 minutes behind the group in front of them.  Official John Paramor told Tiger and Padraig they were being timed and Padraig proceeded to triple bogey the hole, rushing his approach and chip shot around the green.
            No penalties were assessed for slow play, but there is still some question whether Tiger was fined for his post-round criticism of Paramor.  He, rather politely actually, stated it was shame that Paramor intervened in such a great back-and-forth.  The Tour announced they would fine Tiger for the criticism and then Tiger later said the Tour would not fine him.  Who knows what actually occurred.
            It’s worth noting that it seems John Paramor – Chief Rules Official for the European Tour – seems to be the only men’s Tour official willing to actually act on pace of play issues.  He penalized George Coetzee during the final round of an European Tour event last month and more recently has been unfairly demonized as the official who gave 14-year old Tianlang Guan a one stroke pace of play penalty during the second round of the Masters.  As far as I’m concerned, keep up the good work, just make sure you give the penalties consistently…

6.            Where’d It Go?

            During the second round of the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, Tiger hit his tee shot wayward on the par-5 5th hole.  When they got to the spot where the ball should have been, it was nowhere to be found.  PGA Tour VP of Rules and Competitions and the Official in charge of the competition, Mark Russell, was on site with Tiger and began gathering facts.
            He asked if anyone had seen the ball, and after a slight pause, one spectator spoke up and said he had seen the ball drop straight down from the trees into a little bit of a clearing.  He said that spectators had rushed around the ball and then quickly dispersed. When they had dispersed the ball was gone.
            Based on this information, Russell ruled that he was virtually certain that an outside agency (spectator) had stolen and moved the golf ball and Rule 18-1 applied.  Tiger was allowed to substitute a ball (Note 1 to Rule 18 permits a player to substitute a ball when the original is not immediately recoverable) and drop it as near as possible to the spot the witness alleged that it originally lay (see Rule 20-3c).  There was some hullaballoo about Tiger getting a good break on the ruling and that the ball should have been considered lost.  Perhaps.  Or perhaps the testimony from the spectator was accurate and Tiger was in fact entitled to the drop.  I’ll go with the latter.

5.            Roof Jumping

On the 9th hole during the 2009 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Tiger’s approach took a hard bounce and in clear sight of television cameras ended up on the Firestone clubhouse roof.  By definition, since the clubhouse was not defined as out of bounds, it was actually an immovable obstruction.  Based on television, spectator and other eye-witness testimony, it was known that the ball had come to rest on the roof of the clubhouse.  Because it was known that the ball, which had not officially been found, was in the limits of the obstruction, Tiger was entitled to free relief in accordance with Rule 24-3. 
They determined the point where the ball last crossed the outermost limits of the obstruction (clubhouse) and the ball was deemed to lie at that point.  Tiger could then drop within one club-length of his nearest point of relief.  Coincidentally, Tiger then had interference from the grandstands, which were temporary immovable obstructions.  Because a player may obtain relief for interference on his line of play from a TIO, Tiger was then able to get relief to a perfectly clear shot to the green.
Many felt that it was a bad ruling and that the clubhouse should have been marked as out of bounds.  As an official, I think that is accurate, but the bottom line is that it was not.  The clubhouse was not out of bounds, and Tiger was absolutely entitled to the relief he received because of that.  Time to remember that the Rules are here to help, not penalize.

4.            Sandy Tiger

                            During the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship on the 5th hole, Tiger’s drive landed in an area of sand and vines.  Tiger looked at his ball and believed it was embedded.  He called his fellow-competitor Martin Kaymer to confirm that the ball was indeed embedded.  Tiger proceeded to take relief and played the ball.

                Unfortunately, you are not entitled to relief for a ball that is embedded in sand.  The European Tour and most major golf associations use the Local Rule in Appendix I that allows relief for a ball that is embedded through the green.  The term through the green does include sand by definition, “Through the green is the whole area of the course except the teeing ground and putting green of the hole being played and all hazards on the course.”  However, the Local Rule providing for relief through the green has an exception: “A player may not take relief under this Local Rule if the ball is embedded in sand in an area that is not closely mown.” 

Sadly for Tiger, a bed of vines is not a closely mown area and therefore he was not entitled to take relief in his situation.  Because the Local Rule did not apply Tiger's lifting of the ball and failure to replace it was a breach of Rule 18-2a for which the penalty is two strokes.  European Tour Chief Referee Andy McFee informed Tiger of this on the 11th tee after confirming the breach on the television recording.  Although it seems clear from his quotes that Tiger did not like the ruling, McFee says he did not question it.  It is easy to understand the confusion, but it is also important to know the Rules.

3.            The Infamous Drop – Part 1

            There is no doubt that this ruling belongs on any Tiger Ruling top ten list.  In fact, this is going to take up two spots on my list.  One will go for the ruling itself, and the second for the blundering way it was handled.
            On the 15th hole during the second round of the 2013 Masters, Tiger’s approach rattled off the flagstick and into the water hazard.  He took a drop, proceeding as we found out, under what was a hybrid of 26-1a and 26-1b.  At the time, only several keen eyes noticed something might be wrong with the drop, and one of those sets of eyes called in.
            Tiger then made a monumental misstep announcing that he had purposely dropped two yards (it turned out to be closer to 2-3 feet) behind the initial spot. Tiger was assessed a two-stroke penalty the following morning, despite the fact that he had failed to include the penalty on his score card for which he had signed and returned.  The discussion surrounding this is still ongoing.

2.            The Infamous Drop – Part 2

            The Masters Committee has explained the ruling thusly:  The Committee was notified of a potential breach by a viewer prior to Tiger completing his round.  They reviewed the footage and ruled that there was no breach.  Because of this review they decided not to discuss the drop with Tiger prior to returning his score card.  After his post-round comments, they called Tiger in on Saturday morning to review the situation and invoked Rule 33-7 to waive the disqualification penalty he would have been subject to.  Their reasoning, is that it was their own monumental mistake not to discuss the situation with Tiger prior to returning his card. As it was their duty to bring the potential infraction to his attention at that time and they failed in that duty, they felt it was appropriate to waive the disqualification penalty and assess the appropriate two-stroke penalty for playing from a wrong place in breach of Rule 26-1a. 
            In the news, this handling of Rule 33-7 has turned the actual Rule into a joke.  Kendra Graham provided possibly the best explanation in an article you can find on  In my own article I argue that using 33-7 was incorrect.  My argument is that the Committee was simply correcting an incorrect ruling, and assessing the penalty once they discovered that they had erred.  Decision 34-3/1 permits this action.  The argument against me is that most rulings where 34-3/1 would apply involve actually talking to the player.  I can see both points of view. For another opinion supporting 34-3/1 see also former USGA Director of Rules John Morrissett's post at Erin Hill's Facebook page
            My issue is that, while 33-7 is intentionally broad and ultimately up to Committee discretion, the Decisions we do have that give guidance on how to use it (see the second half of Decision 33-7/4.5, the first half is not applicable), tell us that 33-7 should not be used in this situation.  The Committee, however, is always entitled to correct an incorrect ruling provided that the competition has not closed.
            Ultimately what should be taken from this situation is: 
1)    If any doubt arises as to the correctness of the player’s score card (see Decision 6-6d/5) or to a player’s procedure TALK TO THEM AT SCORING.
2)   The Committee is always right.  Agree or disagree, the Masters Committee made a ruling.  The more I study it, the more I am comfortable with the ruling itself, I’m just not comfortable with how they got there.
3)   Rule 33-7 is not a new Rule.  It has been around since 1952 and should be used sparingly.  This year’s ruling was an incredibly unique situation.  Argued in the right manner (as Kendra Graham does), 33-7 was used appropriately.  Argued in the right manner (as I and several others do) 33-7 was not used as it should have been.  Ultimately it is the Committee’s decision, and the Committee’s decision is final (Rule 34-3).

1.            Tiger’s Boulder

            Anyone who has ever studied the Rules remembers Tiger’s boulder.  After hitting his tee shot into the desert on the par-5 13th hole at the TPC of Scottsdale during the final round of the 1999 Phoenix Open, his ball was directly behind an extremely large rock.
            Tiger started looking at the rock and testing it a little.  It was determined that the rock was not embedded and was therefore a loose impediment (see Decision 23-1/2).  He then enlisted the help of spectators and others to help move the rock out of the way, also permissible within the Rules (see Decision 23-1/2).  Ken Venturi in the TV booth was going what can only be called “nuts” that Tiger was being permitted to do this.
            As you will hear in Rules School, however, the Decisions that permitted these actions had been in place long before Tiger ever had that boulder moved.  Decision 23-1/2 tells us that stones of any size that are not solidly embedded are loose impediments and may be removed so long as the removal does not unduly delay play.  Decision 23-1/3 permits a p[layer to receive assistance in removing a large loose impediment from spectators, caddies, fellow-competitors or others.

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