Saturday, April 13, 2013

Who To Blame

If you know me, it’s not surprising that a Tiger Woods story finally motivated me to take back to the blogosphere after a year and a half absence.  This particular Tiger Woods story, however, is beyond surprising.  Even more surprising, though, is the lack of thoughtful and fair analysis we’ve seen in the past few hours.  Specifically, nobody in the print or television media has focused in on the real issues here, and the fact that, to the extent people feel the need to assign blame, the blame lies squarely with the Masters Rule Committee (the “Committee”).  Let me explain.

After Augusta National’s statement this morning, here is what we know:

1)      The Committee learned of the possible illegal drop (the “Drop”) before Tiger finished his second round;

2)      The Committee immediately investigated the Drop;

3)      Before Tiger finished his second round, the Committee determined that Tiger complied with the third acceptable scenario under rule 26-1, which required him to drop the ball “as nearly as possible” from where he played the original shot;

4)      Before Tiger signed his scorecard, and based on the empirical video evidence, the Committee chose not to assess Tiger a two shot penalty, and the Committee allowed Tiger to proceed with signing his card without raising any issues to Tiger;

5)      After Tiger’s post-round interview with Tom Rinaldi, the Committee learned that Tiger’s intent was not to drop his ball “as near as possible” from where he played the original shot (i.e., in the heat of the moment, Tiger confused the first and third acceptable scenarios under Rule 26-1).

Now, this morning, after learning of Tiger’s intent, the Committee chose to assess him a two shot penalty.  Here’s the problem:  Tiger’s intent has nothing whatsoever to do with whether he complied with Rule 26-1.  Therefore, Tiger’s intent should have nothing to do with the Committee’s decision.  So when the Committee determined yesterday evening, based on nothing but the empirical video evidence, that Tiger complied with the rule, the issue should have been forever resolved.  If the Committee had determined Tiger did not comply with the rule, just as the PGA officials did with Dustin “Soul Patch” Johnson at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, the Committee would have thrown themselves in front of Tiger before he signed his card in order to assess the penalty and avoid any potential for disqualification.  At that PGA Championship, play was suspended for a half hour while PGA officials determined that Johnson grounded his club, informed him of the penalty, and allowed him to sign a correct card to preserve a 5th place finish, instead of a DQ. 
In short, yesterday, the Committee determined the Drop was legal.  

Today, the only information the Committee has that it didn’t have when it conducted its official review before Tiger signed his card, is evidence of Tiger’s intent, which has no bearing at all on whether the Drop complied with the rule.  Therefore, if the Drop didn’t warrant a penalty yesterday, it cannot, based on Tiger’s intent, warrant a penalty after the fact.  This should be the end of the story.  It isn’t, of course.   Instead, we have to endure the sanctimonious ranting of Faldo, Chamblee, Faxon, Duvall, Appleby, etc… calling for Tiger’s withdrawal.  Such calls are ludicrous.  Tiger may have erred yesterday, but the Committee ruled he didn’t, and, just like every other competitor in the field, he ultimately signed a scorecard the Committee deemed correct. 

USGA Decision 33-7/4.5 allows the Committee to waive disqualification for an incorrectly signed scorecard when a player “has breached a Rule because of facts that he did not know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his scorecard.”  If the Committee viewed the video of the Drop and determined it legal prior to Tiger signing his scorecard, you cannot make a credible argument that Tiger should “reasonably have discovered” the Drop was not legal before signing his card   So, assuming a drop that was legal yesterday can be illegal today (a proposition I obviously reject), the Committee correctly implemented 33-7/4.5 to assess the two shot penalty and avoid disqualification.  In truth, however, because the Drop was deemed legal before the irrelevant evidence of Tiger’s intent came to light, it should have remained a legal drop, and Tiger should be starting his day 3 under par.  Under no circumstance should the Committee ever have considered disqualifying Tiger, and those calling for his withdrawal should heed these words from Principal Anderson: