Masters marks the end of the game as we used to know it

The most talked about golf tournament in the world had a chance to take the high moral ground, instead it penalised a 14 year old Chinese kid

 Tiger Woods  drops his ball after he hits it into the water on the 15th hole during the second round of the 2013 Masters. Photograph:  Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Tiger Woods drops his ball after he hits it into the water on the 15th hole during the second round of the 2013 Masters. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Sat, Apr 20, 2013, 06:00

The 2013 Masters will be remembered as a milestone in the career of the victorious Adam Scott. He is sure now to go on to win more of the coveted Majors after his maiden victory last week.

Sadly the 2013 Masters will also be the tournament that marks the end of the game as we used to know it. The Augusta Committee invoked the new rule of golf , 33-7, in a situation where it was not intended to be used. Instead of the black-and-white nature of the rules of golf a new shade of grey has been added.

I am of course referring to the Tiger Woods incident on the 15th hole on Friday when he took an illegal drop, signed his card for an incorrect score and ended up finishing fourth in the tournament. As one senior player asked the media when questioned on the matter: “When is the last time you remember a player continuing to play in an event after he signed for a incorrect score?”

Answer: never.

We have all been victims of unwitting rule infringements. Unknowingly we have broken rules. In professional golf the rules are, or should I say were, harsh but fair, there was no compromise.

Ask Pádraig Harrington about the heart-breaking circumstances surrounding the incorrect signing of his scorecard at the Belfry in 2000, when he had an almost insurmountable lead going into the final round. It turned out that Michael Campbell had signed Harrington’s card twice and Harrington hadn’t signed it at all: a technical error but fatal in the rules of golf. Harrington was rightly disqualified.

The Masters is the only professional event of the year that is run by part-timers. There is always a chance of leniency when it comes to decisions on rules.

When it became obvious to the authorities that the outstanding young Chinese amateur Tianlang Guan was dragging his heals in the second round, they timed him. He was taking way too long, as he had done since he first teed up in Augusta on Thursday. He was harshly but fairly penalised a shot for slow play.

People argued sentimentally that he was only a kid, in his first Masters, was it really necessary to penalise him? It was a vital lesson for him to learn early in life. He will now either speed up or learn how to play the rule like so many of the seasoned slow-playing pros. Slow play is killing the game and the methods for dealing with it are useless. The culprits need to be singled out and dealt with.

So finally, it was muttered around the pristine Augusta driving range, the green jackets were taking the hard line on slow play.

Not so fast.

They were unfortunately presented with a real moral dilemma the following day and morality lost.

Hitting the almost perfect shot in golf is often a disaster because when you hit the flag -stick the chances are your ball will end up somewhere undesirable.

When Tiger hit the 15th flag- stick in his second round of course the worst happened. His ball went into the water.

What a cruel game to be so close to perfection and so heavily punished.


Three options
Tiger had three options when dropping his ball. He opted for hitting his shot from the same area that he had hit his original lob wedge from.

Being very aware of his ability, he decided to move back a couple of paces to avoid hitting the middle of the pin again. This of course was his error and I am certain he did it innocently. It was a simple error from an astute professional trying his hardest to get his ball as close to his target as possible. It was a fundamental error that any professional can make in intense competition.

I cannot understand how the rules officials sprinkled in abundance all around Augusta National did not pick up on Tiger’s error. But they didn’t. A television viewer did.

Tiger innocently admitted his guilt by saying he stepped two paces further back to drop his ball to avoid the same misfortune again. The rule clearly states that you need to drop the ball as close as possible to the position of the original ball. Not two paces away. It is a very simple rule which, when broken, and after your card is signed, means automatic disqualification.

The driving range was full of speculation on Saturday morning. The unanimous opinion was that there should be only one outcome. Disqualification. But given where we were, nobody was certain that would be the final decision.


Accusations of cheating
Rule 33-7 was introduced, as far as I am aware, to combat fastidious television viewers on high definition screens from spotting an infringement that the naked eye could never perceive and phoning in with accusations of cheating. The Augusta Committee used the rule to keep the most viewed player on earth in their tournament at the expense of the integrity of the game.

Of course the player himself had the opportunity to do the right thing and disqualify himself and do his personal ratings a world of good, but he didn’t.

Tiger got to add two shots onto his score and play the next day like the world was the same place.

It isn’t. It signifies the start of the end of integrity in a game that once prided itself on unquestionable ethics.

Motorists didn’t suddenly change their perception of the amber light’s original meaning of slowing down to stop to hurrying up to speed through. It was a slow hazardous decline in behaviour that when practised for long enough can seem totally acceptable.

So it is with the rules of golf. The message was clearly conveyed across the world that the rules can indeed be compromised if the committee feel it is in their interest to do so.

Goodbye to the beautiful unquestionable game of golf. Hello the modern self-serving grey game of golf where the rules are interpreted according to one’s interests.

The most talked about golf tournament in the world had a chance to take the high moral ground, instead it penalised a 14-year-old Chinese kid. The world’s best golfer had a chance of redemption, instead he took a two-shot penalty. The game has changed forever.