Tiger Woods might ultimately finish 2013 with Player of the Year honors. But if there was an award for “Most Penalized Player” he’d already have clinched it.
Woods was penalized for taking improper relief from an embedded ball at the Abu Dubai Championship, and then became embroiled in an epic rules controversy at the Masters when he was determined to have taken an improper drop on the 15th hole after his ball careened off the flagstick into a water hazard. He was spared disqualification because tournament officials failed to apprise him that the drop had been questioned before he signed his scorecard.
The third chapter of the Woods rules trilogy occurred during the second round of the BMW Championship after his ball came to rest under trees near the first green. Woods moved some loose impediments around his ball, and thought that the ball merely oscillated but did not move from its position. The incident was captured on video by a film crew following Woods. PGA Tour rules officials reviewed the video and determined that the ball did move, which results in a 1-stroke penalty. But because Woods failed to replace the ball to its original position, he was assessed a 2-stroke penalty.
Generally, a player incurs a 1-stroke penalty under Rule 18-2 if he causes his ball to move once it is in play. (You are not penalized if you inadvertently knock your ball off the tee before making a stroke because the ball is not yet in play.) There are exceptions to this rule, such as if you cause your ball to move while probing for it in a water hazard, moving loose impediments on a putting green, or removing a movable obstruction.
It is not necessary that the ball move horizontally to a new position. For example, if you take your stance and your ball sinks a couple of inches deeper into the rough, such vertical movement results in a penalty. You must attempt to replace the ball to its original position. If that is not possible, the ball should be placed at its new position deeper in the grass. (See Decision 20-3d/3.)
If your ball moves after you have addressed it (taken your stance), you are deemed to have moved it and incur a penalty. However, an exception added to Rule 18-2b last year provides that you are not penalized if it “is known or virtually certain” that you did not cause the ball to move. This exception typically will apply if a gust of wind causes your ball to move on a putting green.
If your ball oscillates but returns to its original position, you are not penalized. Woods thought his ball merely oscillated, but rules officials disagreed.
Woods’ penalty once again raises the issue of whether it is equitable for some players to be subject to greater rules scrutiny than other players by virtue of constant television and media attention. Had there been no film crew following Woods, officials would have deferred to his judgment that the ball did not move. Ron Green, Director of Rules and Championships for the New England Section of the PGA of America, commented: “I do believe that Tiger has been involved in more than his share of rulings this year because of his constant television exposure. This same situation could have taken place with a lesser player and no one would ever have been aware of it. Is that fair?”
Fair or not, the PGA Tour policy is to consider all evidence of rules infractions, whether witnessed by players or rules officials on the course or television viewers scrutinizing every action with the aid of HDTV and slow motion. Rules decisions confirm that it is appropriate for rules officials to consider “testimony” from spectators when a rules issue arises. Most players don’t like it. No doubt Tiger at times would rather be laboring away in the obscurity enjoyed by many of his competitors. On the other hand, he’s well compensated for his visibility.
Jack Ross completed an intensive PGA/USGA workshop and has officiated at state amateur competitions. Rules inquiries may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.