I’ve been playing golf from an early age, and last weekend I experienced a lifelong dream of attending The Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia. I couldn’t have been more excited to make the pilgrimage to what many people feel is the holy grail of golf. I drove from Cincinnati to Atlanta on Friday, and was sitting in a bar waiting for three friends to arrive from their flight when Tiger reached the 15th hole at Augusta National. His third shot looked to be less than 100 yards away. What happened next changed the course of the weekend, and many think it changed Tiger’s career forever. The shot in question looked great off the club. However, it hit the flag stick and spun back hard back into the water.
I may have scared the other people in the bar when I screamed in horror when this took place. By rule, Tiger would have to take a penalty stroke and play his next shot for his fifth stroke. Tiger then had three options as to how to play that fifth shot:
- Utilize the drop area in front of the water hazard
- Take a straight line from where the ball entered the hazard and the flag that is at least as far as the shot he attempted
- Play from the exact location of the shot attempted which entered the hazard
What Tiger did was more of a combination of the second and third option, as he dropped about two yards further back from the spot of the shot that went in the water, which just about nobody knew at the time. He hit a great shot for his fifth and tapped in for a bogey six.
Fast forward to Saturday. We woke up at 6:00 am and make the two hour drive from Atlanta to Augusta. Just before we arrived at the course, I got a text from one of my friends back home that said, “is Tiger disqualified?” I brushed it off as someone’s sick humor trying to mess with me on my first trip to the Masters. I have plenty of applications on my phone that would have messaged me if Tiger Woods weren’t playing on the weekend at Augusta.
Augusta National has a strict rule that you cannot bring any form of a phone or camera onto the grounds, so we left everything in the car. As we were walking and gazing at the immaculate grounds, I heard someone in front of me say something that had both the words “Tiger” and “disqualified” in it. Now it was beginning to turn into a legitimate rumor. I think I instinctively grabbed for my phone approximately 89 times. I honestly can’t recall a time like this in the past, where I didn’t have immediate access to either turn on a television, make a phone call, or get on Twitter. It was completely bizarre as to how technology has changed the way we live our lives.
I found a marshall on the course and asked him what was going on. He told me he heard a rumor that Tiger was going to be disqualified, but it wasn’t confirmed and he really didn’t know what was going on. By this time, I was going crazy. I’m one of the few lucky people in the world to be attending the Masters, and everyone at home watching or with SportsCenter has more knowledge than I do.
What ended up happening was in a post-round press conference, Tiger said to reporters that he backed up two yards from the previous spot and hit again. When this was said, it opened up a can of worms with the media and they got in touch with the Powers That Be at Augusta, and on Saturday morning they assessed a two stroke penalty to Woods. Therefore, Tiger signed an incorrect scorecard stating he shot at 71, whereas with the two penalty strokes, he shot a 73.
In 2011 that would have been reason alone for an immediate disqualification. However, a new rule introduced a couple of years ago (Rule 33-7) states the following:
“a penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.”
Now, either you like golf or you just went to sleep, so let me explain why this minutia matters. Golf is known as the ultimate “Gentleman’s Game.” You are expected to call any penalty on yourself; there are no referees blowing whistles as in most other sports. There have been numerous stories of great integrity of people losing a tournament because they committed a rules infraction that nobody even saw. In 1968, a man named Roberto De Vicenzo signed his scorecard at the Masters that stated he shot a 66 when he actually shot a lower score (65), and he was disqualified. It is almost a badge of courage to do so, and those types of stories are many times remembered more than the actual winner of the respective tournament.
Therefore, many, many people on Saturday in the media decided that Tiger, since he realized he broke the rules and gained an advantage from his competitors, should disqualify himself and withdraw from the tournament. More than a few of his peers felt this way as well:
From Tiger’s perspective, the tournament officials did not disqualify him from the tournament. The new rule states he shouldn’t be disqualified, so why should he withdraw? The fact of the matter is the one shot turned into a four shot penalty, since he would have made the next putt, had the penalty stroke for being in the water, and then two more strokes for the mistake. That left Tiger to finish at 5 under par on when he finished the tournament on Sunday, while the leaders finished at 9 under par. Had this not happened, Tiger would have been in a playoff with a chance to win the Masters.
As for the legacy of Tiger Woods, he is the most polarizing athlete in the history of the sport. Whether it was his meteoric rise in the late 90s or his horrific fall from grace in 2008 due to a myriad of infidelities, this episode will not be assisting in him getting back in the good graces of fans or his fellow competitors. It will be very interesting to see how Tiger handles this situation in the upcoming weeks as the media scrutiny heats up. Tiger himself is a brand — almost all of his endorsement earnings were taken away after his discretions in 2008 — and he has been slowly building his reputation back up, both on the course and off. While opinions are mixed as to whether Woods should have packed up his clubs and left Augusta on Saturday without competing on the weekend, unfortunately, the way it played out is not going to help on his path of rehabilitation.
Outside of Tiger, there are a few things that are certain for me. Being without a smart phone for 12 hours is something I wasn’t used to, and Augusta National Golf Club is one of the most picturesque places on earth.