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Woods marked his second-round card for six on 15, his apparent score, and signed for 71. On Saturday morning the tournament's competition committee, headed by a former U.S. Amateur champion (Fred Ridley) and relying upon an NFL-style further-review process, turned that score into an eight, adding two shots because Woods had played from the wrong spot. Invoking Rule 33-7, which gives the committee discretion in such matters, Ridley & Co. allowed Woods to stay in the tournament, even though he had signed for a lower score than he actually made, which will almost always get a player disqualified.
There was so much noise about Woods's drop last week that the essence of the issue got lost. Right above Woods's signature on his Friday card, as was the case for all 306 cards turned in last week, were the words I HAVE CHECKED MY SCORE HOLE BY HOLE. A fundamental principle of tournament golf is that a player is responsible for turning in an accurate scorecard. Woods failed in his responsibility to do that, and Augusta National gave him an exceedingly generous pass.
Yes, there were some strange, late-breaking circumstances. But golf has lots of strange, late-breaking circumstances. The fact remains that the player needs to be held accountable without any adult supervision. Many knowledgeable golf people will tell you that the Masters' officials handled the Woods decision fairly, right on the heels of Guan's strictly-by-the-book slow-play penalty. ("Rules are rules," Woods said of Guan's penalty.) Another view is, Augusta National was too lenient with Woods and took too much responsibility for the debacle. The club, Ridley said in a Saturday-morning press conference that had the momentous feeling of the Supreme Court in session, had received a call from a TV viewer who questioned Woods's drop before Woods completed his round. The competition committee reviewed the drop and determined that it was within the rules, so the question was not even put to Woods.
Ridley regretted that, understandably so. But in penalizing Woods two shots and not disqualifying him, Ridley absolved Woods of his responsibility. That's a problem. And if golfers ever develop the same attitude that athletes have in other sports—catch me if you can—then golf will be cheapened and made more ordinary. It will be a lesser game.
What good could possibly have come from Woods's continuing to play? Had he won his 15th major title, many would have said it was a tainted victory. Then, if he were to break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors, that would be tainted too. If the club didn't want to disqualify Woods, which it did not even consider, somebody should have talked Woods into disqualifying himself. It would have been the best thing for the tournament, for Woods's legacy and for the game. It would have allowed Tiger to make the statement that the game is bigger than any one individual and any one week.
Woods's decision to keep playing was legalistic. "Under the Rules of Golf, I can play," he said. He was technically correct, and that's all he was.
Saturday morning was as tense as a typical back nine on Sunday afternoon. Brandel Chamblee and Nick Faldo filled Golf Channel airtime with a spirited explanation of why Woods should not continue playing, while the former Tour players, and friends of Tiger's, Notah Begay and John Cook argued the opposite position. (Faldo later softened his stance.) The morning provided a window into the bubble in which Woods lives. Tiger is hard to reach. When Ridley wanted to review the matter with Woods on Friday night, he contacted, he said, "Tiger's representatives."
Who could possibly have helped Woods see the virtue in withdrawing from the tournament? His agent, Mark Steinberg? Please. Nike chairman Phil Knight? Not a guy who seems to care about golf. Tiger's girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn? Too new to the scene. His mother, Tida? The original tiger mom. Augusta chairman Billy Payne? Not after that preachy lecture he gave Woods at his welcome-back press conference three years ago.
Jack Nicklaus said last week he's never had a conversation longer than a minute with Woods. He wasn't being critical, he was just making the point that Woods does his own thing. Woods cannot stand being lectured to. Maybe his late father, Earl, would have told him to walk away last week. Maybe.
You'd like to say that Scott's 25-foot putt on the 72nd hole was the most memorable shot of the tournament. Or Cabrera's approach shot to 18 on Sunday, 10 minutes later, which finished three feet from the hole. But Woods overwhelms everything in golf, and he did it again last week.