Woods shouldn't be above Rules of Golf

Competition committee's errors at Masters help him out

Tiger Woods dropped two strokes at the Masters when he was given a two-shot penalty for a bad drop on Friday. However, he avoided a more serious sanction, disqualification, and he'll continue to play over the weekend. (April 13)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — He's 14, and English is his second language.

And yet, Tianlang Guan said it perfectly: "Rules are rules."

Whether that was a jab at his idol, Tiger Woods, remains debatable. But Woods on Friday said of the one-shot slow-play penalty assessed to Guan: "Rules are rules."

Or at least they should be.

No one will argue that the Rules of Golf — the book is 215 scintillating pages — are not complex, convoluted and whatever other synonyms your thesaurus can find.

If your ball lands on ice chips, can they be removed? What if your caddie smooths out a fairway bunker with his foot while you're in a greenside bunker? What if a dropped coin from another player causes your ball to move? What if an earthquake moves it while you're about to putt?

Jim Furyk on Thursday marked his ball but noticed that it moved before he released the marking coin.

"I don't know exactly how the rule works," the 22nd-year tour pro said.

But guess what? Rule 26, which deals with relief from a water hazard, is actually not that complicated. At least not for those who play golf for a living and their caddies.

"You're right," said Steve Stricker, the Illinois alum and Woods ally. "But I'm sure (Woods) had a lot of things racing in his mind out there. It's easy to get confused. A lot of times I'm that way, and I'll just call in a rules official or ask my caddie."

After Woods saw his original approach on No. 15 spin off the flagstick into the water Friday, he was understandably steamed. But that's no excuse for forgetting the game's basic tenets.

He did not consult a rules official, though Stricker said they are everywhere: "You just raise your hand and probably two or three come running to you."

And we don't know whether he got input from caddie Joe LaCava, who has logged 27 years on the PGA Tour. LaCava, who was standing right next to Woods when he made his illegal drop, declined to answer questions Saturday.

Bubba Watson, at least, is smart enough to know what he doesn't know.

"I don't know the rule book," he said. "I always call in the rules official."

He did it Saturday after his approach on No. 11 found the pond and he wasn't clear on the ball's point of entry.

"Once the rules official tells you a rule, that's law," Watson said. "So even if he makes a bad ruling, it's still law."

One of golf's laws changed in 2011 after some nitwit emailed the European Tour to complain that Padraig Harrington's ball had moved about a millimeter as he removed its mark at Abu Dhabi. This could only be noticed by someone with a high-def television and the ability to rewind.

After Harrington was disqualified, Rule 33-7 was created to protect players who innocently sign an incorrect scorecard because of "errors identified as the result of recent advances in video technologies."

It was not, the USGA later clarified, supposed to serve as a lifeline for those "breaches that arise from ignorance of the Rules of Golf."

Hmmm … so how come Masters officials used it to save Woods?

Because its competition committee erred twice — once in originally ruling that Woods' drop was OK and then by not questioning him until after he'd signed a penalty-free scorecard.

The committee compounded that with a third mistake — allowing Woods to continue playing because of Rule 33-7.

Woods could have withdrawn, as was suggested by the Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee — "A flagrant rules violation that will follow (Woods) around for the rest of his career."

That would have earned him respect among his peers and golf fans who appreciate the rules.

Instead he played on, vying to win a fifth green jacket. If he does, Woods should add the Rules of Golf for its breast pocket.

tgreenstein@tribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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