Nowhere To Hide
As much as the golf media has placed Tiger Woods on the pedestal, it's fair to say no golfer is subject to more criticism
Way too early on a Saturday morning, a colleague in the fraternity known as ink-stained wretches back when ink and paper ruled gave me a call.
He wanted to talk about the Friday Night Fight between Tiger Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, and TV commentator Brandel Chamblee, which stemmed from Chamblee's comments about Woods' multiple rules mistakes this season.
More specifically, my compatriot called to make his case that if Woods were voted Player of the Year by the Golf Writers Association of America it would damage the reputation of the organization because we would once again be perceived as protectors of Tiger.
First off, Brandel did not directly call Woods a cheater. He said he was "a little cavalier with the rules," while also equating Woods' missteps this year with a cheating incident the analyst had in fourth grade. It was a coy way of implying one thing without actually saying it.
Now, has Chamblee created a cottage industry as a Woods critic? No doubt. Until now his views have involved the swing and Tiger's mental state. This treads onto new -- and dangerous -- territory. Professional ethics.
This is a path I have been down before with several other players. In the YouTube world in which we live, I have been pushed many times by viewers and readers who want me to call someone a cheater. That's not a place I'll go without rock-solid evidence. You can't.
Is it odd that Woods had four rules incidents in one year? Yes. I was there for two of them and I'll address those.
At the Masters, Tiger took a bad drop on No. 15 on Friday after his ball bounced off the flagstick into the hazard. He detailed that bad drop to the media after the round, not knowing he was admitting to a rules violation.
The problem was that the Masters rules committee, after receiving a heads-up from an official watching at home, never bothered to question Woods about the drop before he signed his scorecard.
If Woods had said the same thing in the scoring hut that he said to the media he would have been assessed a two-stroke penalty on the spot.
That he was assessed a two-stroke penalty the next day and not disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard was completely fair. He took a bad drop because a brain cramp after a terrible bit of bad luck led him to combine two options into one.
In not disqualifying Woods, the Rules Committee was not protecting Tiger from his own ignorance of the rules but rather protecting him from the incompetency of the Rules Committee.
At the Players, those who say he took a bad drop on No. 14 in terms of where his ball crossed the hazard line ignore this simple fact: His playing partner agreed with the drop. That's how that goes.
The embedded ball mistake in the sandy soil at Abu Dhabi is totally understandable. It's an addendum to Rule 25-2 and though a widely-used local rule, not easily understood.
As for the oscillating ball, I don't understand why Tiger didn't just let go of that, although I do have a problem with calling violations that can only be determined on HD video.
Now let's talk about the media protecting Tiger. I frequently hear people say, "You guys don't want to speak ill of Tiger because you are afraid you will lose access to him."
Let me tell you what access to Tiger is all about. I have known him since 1995. And he has always answered every question I have ever asked him. Always. Twice this year, he helped me with stories by answering questions via email. But the last time I spent time with him off the golf course was in 1997 and the last time I even ran into him off the course was at a restaurant in Dublin, Ohio, in 1998.
On the course, almost all of my interviews have occurred while we were both walking: From the parking lot to the clubhouse; from the clubhouse to the practice range; from the scoring trailer to the locker room.
Most of what we have always gotten from Tiger has been obtained in the interview room or in scrums right after, occasionally in the locker room. There was really no access to lose.
And for those who say the media has gone easy on Woods, I would disagree. His swearing, his club tossing, his at-times surliness and reluctance to sign autographs have been pointed out by many for a long time.
I never wrote much about the Thanksgiving 2009 scandal, but in 2010 and '11 I was assigned to cover all of Woods' tournaments. I saw a lot of shockingly bad golf shots.
And I wrote that.
I saw a man I thought was struggling with the cataclysmic changes that had impacted his life and was -- quite understandably -- not 100 percent focused on playing competitive golf.
And I wrote that.
I saw a man who at times appeared as if he did not want to be playing competitive golf.
And I wrote that.
I saw a man whose life had been blown up -- largely through his own doing -- and was trying to piece together the shattered chards of divorce, shared parenthood, public humiliation and significant economic impact.
And I wrote that.
My words, my opinions, impacted my relationship with Woods. He used to call me "Ronnie." Now he nods politely and very professionally answers my questions. There was a certain familiarity lost, but there was no access lost. For those who say Tiger has had the golf media in his back pocket, I say read this piece by Dan Jenkins that ran on GolfDigest.com a couple months after the scandal reached full fury.
It's brilliantly written, thoughtfully reasoned and extremely harsh. Is that the product of a media that has gone easy on Woods?
As a GWAA member, I have a vote for Player of the Year. Mine will go to Tiger Woods. Here's why:
• He won five times and no one else had more than two.
• He is No. 1 in the World Ranking with 41.3 percent more average points than No. 2 Adam Scott.
• He led the PGA Tour money list by more than $2 million over runner-up Henrik Stenson.
• He was No. 2 in scoring average, 0.04 behind leader Steve Stricker and played 10 more rounds than Stricker.
True, Woods did not win a major, but none of the four men who did built very much on top of that success.
As for how his rules run-ins will affect my voting: It's old news. And as the late great Dick Joyce used to say about old news, "Bottom of the birdcage, Mersch."
That's where any allegations about challenging Woods' golf ethics belong: On the bottom on the birdcage, the ink on paper covered with an appropriate evaluation of its veracity.