The Tiger Rules!
Continued (page 2 of 2)
Eger, now a Champions Tour player, was the one who spotted Tiger's bad drop at the 15th hole during the second round of the Masters. "I watched a replay of him ricocheting his third shot off the flagstick and into the water and thought, He must have hit a great shot to make a 6, and rewound further to watch his fifth shot," Eger told Golf Digest's Guy Yocom (see October 2013). "That's when I noticed the divot hole a good distance in front of the place where he'd played that fifth shot. Then I watched his third shot again, and I see no divot hole...Tiger clearly didn't play his fifth shot from 'as nearly as possible' from where he'd played his third shot, as required by Rule 26-1a."
THE TOUR'S EXPERIMENTIn 1991, the PGA Tour began monitoring tournament broadcasts, only to abandon it within months after implementation. The monitoring began in March after a television viewer reported a rules violation that caused Paul Azinger to be disqualified from the Doral Ryder Open. In response, the tour began placing an official in a television trailer to monitor play for potential rules infractions. In the final round of the GTE Byron Nelson Classic, the tour used a television replay to overrule a player's decision. Jaime Diaz, now at Golf Digest and Golf World, provided an account in The New York Times.
The dispute started when Tom Kite hooked his tee shot on the 11th hole into a lake. Kite and fellow-competitor Phil Blackmar agreed that the ball had passed over a point of land before landing in the hazard. Based on that, Kite was entitled to a penalty drop on that point. But former tour pro George Boutell, looking at a videotape of the shot, thought Kite's ball could not have crossed that point. Instead, he thought Kite should play his next shot from the same tee. Boutell contacted Mike Shea, the tour's tournament director, who was on the course. After arriving at the 11th hole, Shea told Kite of Boutell's opinion. Kite disagreed, and he played two balls. On the ball played after taking a drop near the lake, Kite made a bogey 5. On the ball he replayed from the tee, Kite made a 6. After watching the video replay of Kite's original tee shot, Shea ruled that the double bogey would count.
After the round, Kite was upset that his judgment had been questioned. The third-round leader, Kite shot a final-round 75 and tied for eighth. "TV has no business doing what they're doing, making a ruling from an official watching TV in a trailer," Kite said at the time. "I don't understand why we're using it."
Fast-forward to the final round of the 2013 Players. Woods, the leader, hit his drive left into the water at the 14th hole and took a drop after conferring with his fellow-competitor, Casey Wittenberg. "That Tiger drop was really, really borderline," NBC's Johnny Miller said. "I can't live with myself without saying that." Said Wittenberg: "I saw it perfectly off the tee. I told him exactly where I thought it crossed, and we all agreed, so he's definitely great on that...There is no doubt, guys. The ball crossed where he dropped."
It's ridiculous to think that Wittenberg, a self-assurred guy, said what he said to court favor with Tiger or was intimidated. There's also a question of whether some television angles can deceive the viewer. An NBC spokesman told Golf World's John Strege: "The blimp shot was not directly overhead, so showing replays from that angle would mislead the viewers, thinking the ball was over the water much longer than it was."
Added Mark Russell, the PGA Tour's vice president of competitions: "Without definitive evidence, the point where Woods' ball last crossed the lateral water hazard is determined through best judgment by Woods and his fellow-competitor. If that point later proves to be a wrong point (through television or other means), the player is not penalized by Rule 26-1 given the fact that a competitor would risk incurring a penalty every time he makes an honest judgment as to the point where his ball last crosses a water-hazard margin and that judgment subsequently proves incorrect (Decision 26-1/17)."
After 2013's high-profile rules incidents, we asked the tour if it's thinking of reinstituting the monitoring plan. "The PGA Tour does not assign staff to watch the telecast, as the PGA Tour has always focused on the on-course presence of officials as the first priority," said tour spokesman Joel Schuchmann. "From time to time, if the situation permits it, a member of the rules staff does monitor the telecast. From a wider standpoint, we will continue to monitor the effect of television evidence on the rules and feel this is a key area of focus moving forward from a rules-making perspective. To this end, we are working closely with the governing bodies on this important area."
Here's the message to the tour and to the governing bodies: Players want to get it right. Fans want to get it right. And television can play a key role in getting it right.
After 32 years with the USGA, including 21 as executive director, David Fay writes monthly for Golf Digest.