Tiger Woods' Penalty: A New Reality Show?


The Masters is over with. Adam Scott became the first Australian to ever win one of these things. And he did it by beating Angel Cabrera on the second playoff hole by draining an 18-foot birdie putt in the rain. Tiger Woods finished tied for fourth. Adding insult to injury, Scott won using Woods' estranged caddy, Steve Williams, another Aussie.

But the story of the week was the two-stroke penalty imposed on Woods on Saturday morning. Woods went to bed thinking he was three under par, only three strokes behind the leaders, heading into the weekend. Saturday morning he was informed he'd made an illegal drop on Friday, after a shot he hit had gone in the water after hitting the pin.

So what changed? After having seen no problem with Woods' drop on Friday, the PGA changed its decision the next day and decided to penalize him. Why? Because some television viewers had pointed out that Tiger's drop was taken a club-length or two farther back than the spot where the original shot was taken.

This brings up some interesting questions — at least, they're interesting to golf fans like me. The first is whether television viewers should be influencing the outcome of sporting events. It's the equivalent, in my mind, anyway, of television viewers pointing out that a pro basketball player's foot was touching the out-of-bounds line when he made a shot, and the NBA upon learning about it, taking away the basket the next day. That won't happen, of course. If the ref or the umpire misses the call in any other sport, that's just the way cookie crumbles. Tough darts. Golf, not so much, apparently.

The second question I have is whether it's fair that a player who's on television when he makes a shot is held to a higher standard than a player who isn't. For all we know, a similar, slightly improper drop could have been made by other players who didn't happen to be on camera when they did it. In that case, being on television when you make a penalty drop is a disadvantage, because that player is being held to a higher standard — one being administered by millions of TV referees.

The rules folks were using a sort of delayed "non-instant" replay to make a call that seriously impacted the outcome of a tournament. Was it the right thing to do? I don't think so.

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