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2 Rules Don’t Make A Right

Friday’s second round at the Masters produced two separate Rulings that were staggering in both their implementation and their circumstance.

14 year old Tianlang Guan was assessed a 1 shot penalty for slow play as he finished the 17th hole.

This is how the Rule reads in the USGA Rules of Golf:

“6-7. Undue Delay; Slow Play:

The player must play without undue delay and in accordance with any pace of play guidelines that the Committee may establish. Between completion of a hole and playing from the next teeing ground, the player must not unduly delay play.”

The USGA, R&A and the PGA Tour have a 40 second period for a player to execute a shot, which is the time limit they have deemed corresponds to the above rule.

The Masters Rules Committee Chairman, Fred Ridley, issued the following statement: “Guan was assessed a one-shot penalty for violation of Rule 6-7 of the Rules of Golf and the Tournament’s Pace of Play Policy. His group, which included Ben Crenshaw and Matteo Manassero, was deemed out of position on No. 10. Guan began being timed on Hole 12 and received his first warning on Hole 13 after his second shot. In keeping with the applicable rules, he was penalized following his 2nd shot on the 17th hole when he again exceeded the 40 second time limit by a considerable margin.”

The last player on Tour to be assessed a penalty for slow play was Greg Boudry in the 2010 PGA Championship. Before Boudry’s penalty one would have to have gone back to 1995 when Glen Day was penalized on the PGA Tour.

The facts of the matter are that PGA Tour players are chronically pedestrian in their play. Two-somes routinely take 5+ hours to play a round of golf, which is more than just being slow. It is painstakingly slow. Ergo, on any given day on Tour a great majority of players could be assessed the same one shot penalty. For it to happen to Guan at this venue, seems to be a terribly unjust penalty.

To his credit, Guan took things in stride and said: “I respect the decision. This is what they can do.”

Luckily for Guan and golf fans everywhere, the one shot penalty did not cause Guan to miss the cut which he made right on the number, at 4-over par. As he is the only Amateur to have made the cut, he will be the Low Amateur in the 2013 Masters, and his story this week will resonate for the ages.

The second Ruling is one which will be talked about for years and may further cloud the legacy Tiger Woods leaves behind.

Woods’s third shot to the par 15th hole was a laser that flew straight at the flag. In one of the unluckiest breaks in Masters history the ball hit the bottom of the flagstick and ricocheted back into the water.

Here is how the Rule reads:

26-1. Relief for Ball in Water :

a. Proceed under the stroke and distance provision of Rule 27-1 by playing a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played (see Rule 20-5); or

b. Drop a ball behind the water hazard, keeping the point at which the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard directly between the hole and the spot on which the ball is dropped, with no limit to how far behind the water hazard the ball may be dropped; or

c. As additional options available only if the ball last crossed the margin of a lateral water hazard, drop a ball outside the water hazard within two club-lengths of and not nearer the hole than (i) the point where the original ball last crossed the margin of the water hazard or (ii) a point on the opposite margin of the water hazard equidistant from the hole.

Woods dropped his ball two yards from where he played his 3rd shot. It was not “as near as possible to the spot from which the original ball was last played.”

Adding to the violation was what Woods would later say on ESPN when being interviewed, revealing that that he had deliberately dropped the ball two yards further away because he felt that he could control that distance better when playing what would be his 5th shot (he would go on to make a bogey 6 by hitting his fifth shot three feet from the pin and then making the putt). By his own admission, Woods had therefore violated Rule 26-1.

Had he or the Tournament Committee assessed the 2 shot penalty for this violation, which would have changed his score for the day from 71 to 73, and Woods would have signed his scorecard to reflect that, all would be well. He did not, and thereby signed an incorrect scorecard which would be cause for Disqualification.

Embattled Rules Committee Chairman Fred Ridley, said that the Committee had been made aware of a possible violation by a TV viewer during Friday’s round, and after reviewing the situation the Committee had decided that there was no violation. On Friday evening, after they were made aware of Woods’s comments after the round, they ‘re-visited’ the situation on Saturday morning with him, and then assessed the two shot penalty.

Ridley would go on to say that the Committee had invoked Rule 33-7 (introduced two years ago, to allow a Rules Committee to not disqualify someone when someone called in an infraction in which the player was unaware that they had broken a rule).  In part that Rule reads: “A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.”

If Woods had taken the high road and disqualified himself, he could have done himself and the Game immeasurable good. Ultimately, his decision must be one he, and he alone, lives with but he has missed a golden opportunity to restore a legacy that has already been so tarnished.