Tiger Woods’ rules infraction last Friday at the BMW Championship remained the most-talked-about-two-shot penalty (since earlier this year at The Masters) on the eve of the Tour Championship. Woods remains adamant that his ball oscillated and didn’t move despite the obvious video evidence, and while this rules violation was caught by a “freelance videographer” for PGA Tour Entertainment, this incident has heightened the discussion about armchair rules officials calling in penalties.
Prior to his chat with the media, Woods met with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem for about an hour, and though Tiger didn’t divulge many details about their conversation, it’s safe to assume that the main topic was the Tour’s policy on viewers calling in potential rules infractions.
“I think that with HD TV, I think that’s been a huge transition,” said Woods, who would like to win a sixth tournament in 2013 this week at the Tour Championship. “I think that there are certainly a lot more viewer call-ins and I think what people don’t realize is that our rules staff get quite a few calls every week. A lot of them never see the light of day.
“I think that it’s a new age in which there is a lot of cameras that are around, well, around my group and then some of the top players. I get it from the first time I step on the range on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, all the way through, and virtually every shot’s on something, and some of the top players are getting it.
“Most players don’t get it until they’re in the leader groups on Saturday or Sunday. So it’s just a new age. We’re going to have to have more discussions about it in the future. I think that’s actually happening right now.”
On Tuesday Finchem said the Tour will review its current system of allowing viewers to phone in rules infringements, including the prospect of time constraints on reported violations. (Well, finally!) He also discussed the “fairness” of players, like Woods, who are televised more often than the average guy.
“You’ve got 70-some players playing on Sunday, seven or eight or 10 of them can win the golf tournament, (and) 85, 90, 95 percent of the camera time is on those seven or eight players,” Finchem said. “Is that equitable to everything?”
Fair enough. It’s been a strange year for Woods and the Rules of Golf. Last Friday’s incident was the third two-shot penalty he’d received in 2013, not to mention the controversy at The Players — which he went onto win for the second time in his career — about a drop after he drove his ball into the hazard.
“As far as the viewer call-ins, I think what the commissioner said yesterday is very appropriate,” said Tiger. “There needs to be a time limit, and I think there needs to be a discussion of obviously where is that time limit? Where is that line demarcation? You’ve got to start with disqualification first and then work our way back from there.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of discussion over it. The course of what’s going to happen over a course of time, is every player going to be mandated to have a camera follow them around everywhere they go, all 156 players for every shot? Or is there a certain time limit when we’re going to have to do it? The digital age, is it going to change? It’s growing a lot certain the next 10 to 20 years, what it’s going to be like.
“These are all questions and answers that need to be resolved in the near future.”
What do Tiger’s peers think?
Well, Justin Rose might be the only person in the golf industry who hasn’t seen footage of Woods moving loose impediments around his ball and causing it to move from its original position, but he agreed there needs to be a time limit on call-ins.
“I feel like once you’ve signed your scorecard, the deed has been done and that’s the way it should be,” said Rose on Wednesday after finishing a practice session. “But I don’t have a problem with it in real time. If the TVs are on and the viewers see something on TV and they see something untoward, and the player doesn’t catch it himself, then I think, as a player, you’d want to know. You don’t want to break a rule, so if you do it inadvertently, you want to know and if there’s a situation where a player infringes a rule, there should be a penalty, too. I don’t have a problem with it, I just feel like it’s a tough situation to get DQ’d from it the following day or after the fact. It has to be real time or in the moment, that’s my view on it.”
Generally speaking, Rose doesn’t mind viewer call-ins, though.
“If it’s provable that a rule’s been broken, then a rule’s been broken,” said the U.S. Open champ. “I think all of us out there would want to know.”
What does Rose think he would have done had he been in Tiger’s shoes last Friday?
“You need to make a determination because if you call a rules official over, he’s going to come over and say, did it move or did it not move?” said Rose. “At the end of the day, it becomes your call no matter what.
“On the greens I’ve found myself wondering, did my ball move or not move? As soon as you bring the doubt in there, at the end of the day, it’s your call. If you tell the referee it didn’t move, what’s he going to say? It didn’t move unless you see the TV evidence.
“If it might have moved, I think you have to give yourself a penalty.”
Meanwhile, Billy Horschel voiced his strong opinion against fans calling in penalties. Horschel believes only three parties should be allowed to determine penalties: The player, the caddie and the rules official inside the ropes.
“I think it needs to stop,” said Horschel, referring to fan call-ins. “I think it’s stupid, but I also think we have some of the greatest and most knowledgeable fans in sports.
“No one calls in — well, I can’t say no one calls in because they probably do — the NFL for a holding penalty or pass interference or traveling in the NBA, but nothing is done. I think the Tour and everyone else should not answer the freaking phones and let golf be played. I don’t think anyone out here is trying to cheat on purpose. We’re trying to play by the rules.
“Guys call penalties on themselves all the time when stuff happens like that. I guarantee guys are probably going to start getting nervous when a camera is around and they need to move a stick or (loose impediment) and they know what they need to do, but they second-guess themselves because they’re afraid someone is going to call in and they’re going to get penalized, so then you have a rules official come over to check everything and it slows down play. It’s getting out of hand.”
However, asked what he would have done in Tiger’s situation last Friday, Horschel said he probably would have gotten a rules official to intervene.
“I think Tiger knew his ball oscillated because he didn’t think he did anything wrong, which is why he didn’t call a rules official over,” said Horschel. “Like I said, I don’t think Tiger’s trying to cheat…The game is fine, people just need to stop calling in. That’s all that needs to be done. The fans are great, they just don’t need to call in.”
And what does Tiger have to say about his year plagued with two-stroke penalties?
“I can’t remember another year in which this has happened like this, but kind of just the way it’s been and the way it goes,” said Woods.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)