What if he’d won?
It had to happen. The guardians of golf’s Rules could not allow the abuse that surrounded Tiger’s infamous drop to pass without clarification. Nor do they wish any future Rules Committee takes the Masters use of Rule 33-7 as precedent.
The abuse referred to is the action taken by the Masters Rules Committee, in acting the way they did, over the much-reported incident involving Tiger’s illegal drop during the second round of this year’s Masters Tournament.
In a joint statement released two days ago, on 1 May 2013 – reproduced in full below – the R&A and USGA have stated that the Masters Rules Committee, in choosing to apply Rule 33-7, ([a] penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.) used it in a manner for which it was not intended. “Such discretion,” said the statement “is not intended to protect a competitor from the consequences of his erroneous application of the Rules. The fact that Woods, when he returned his score card, was not aware that he had incurred a two-stroke penalty on the 15th hole was not a basis to waive disqualification under Rule 33-7.”
The joint statement also states that, “Viewing the incident solely from the standpoint of Woods’ actions, there was no basis to waive the penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d.”
The basis for the Masters Rules Committee to exercise its discretionary powers under Rule 33-7 was, in the view of the joint statement, due to the consequences of the Committee’s own actions. This refers to their decision not to act on the advice offered by a TV viewer, whose phone call first alerted them to Woods’ infringement. The point being that had they done so, and discussed it with Woods prior to him returning his scorecard, the score would likely have been amended thus avoiding the incorrect score penalty of disqualification. In short, their ruling not to enforce disqualification was down to their decision to disregard the advice of the TV viewer.
The joint statement recognises the Committee, in hindsight, “determined that its initial ruling was incorrect, as well as that it had erred in resolving this question without first seeking information from Woods and in failing to inform Woods of the ruling. Given the unusual combination of facts – as well as the fact that nothing in the existing Rules or Decisions specifically addressed such circumstances of simultaneous competitor error and Committee error – the Committee reasonably exercised its discretion under Rule 33-7 to waive the penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d, while still penalizing Woods two strokes under Rules 26-1a and 20-7c for playing from a wrong place.”
Having combed through various publications on this story, it appears the general view is that the R&A and USGA are saying this will never be allowed to happen again, but nonetheless, the Masters Rules Committee, given the circumstances, reasonably exercised its discretion under Rule 33-7 to waive the penalty of disqualification.
My view is that golf’s ruling bodies are being more than kind to Augusta National. If this tournament had been run by the type of management that administers any of the other three majors, none of this farce would have occurred. Before reading the full text of the statement below, I invite readers to review the response of Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National’s Rules Committee, to two specific questions put to him during the press conference used to explain their incredulous actions, on the morning of day three of the tournament.
Q. You guys got calls, which made the situation more complicated from your end, but from the player’s end his responsibility is to sign for a proper scorecard which he didn’t do. So on that basis I’m still confused as to why Tiger is still playing because typically he signed for a wrong scorecard, it’s your responsibility to know the rules, you didn’t know the rules, you signed for a wrong card and you get disqualified. Let’s forget about your calls because that’s not really in Tiger’s head. He didn’t know about it. I’m confused why he’s still playing when he signed the wrong card.
FRED RIDLEY: Well, I think the issue‑‑ your question doesn’t have anything to do with what happened after. It has to do with what happened before, and what happened before was that our Committee had made a decision and that Tiger, although he didn’t know that decision, he was entitled to have the benefit of that decision when he signed his scorecard. And to me it would have been grossly unfair to Tiger to have disqualified him after our Committee had made that decision.
And by the way, our Committee consists of Jim Reinhart, who is an Augusta National member and a former Rules of Golf and chairman of the USGA; and Mark Russell, who is a Vice President of Competitions for the PGA TOUR, very knowledgeable rules officials.
But we felt it would have been prejudicial to Tiger to not have given him the benefit of that decision we made while he was still playing the 18th hole.
Comment: Firstly, it would now appear both the R&A and the USGA shared the questioner’s confusion as to why Tiger was still playing. Second, the fact that Reinhart is an Augusta National member has nothing to do with his ability to act on this issue. In fact from this point on, it will be viewed as disadvantageous. Third, what Ridley does not mention is the identity of the TV viewer whose phone call first alerted Augusta to the infringement. It turns out he is David Eger, a playing member of the Champions Tour. But more importantly, before joining the senior circuit, Eger had a long career as a tournament director with both the PGA Tour and the USGA. Not only is Eger known to Ridley and the PGA Tour’s Mark Russell, whose qualifications Ridley champions above, but he is one of the most experienced tournament officials in US golf and a recognised expert on the rules. Surely that should have alerted Ridley and co to the seriousness of the situation?
Q. Obviously this was a very tough decision, but there’s potential ramifications within the game that are enormous. Do you have any doubts about it at all and the possibility that it set a rather dangerous precedent in some cases?
FRED RIDLEY: Well, I mean, I think that‑‑ I’m not so concerned about precedent because I think that‑‑ one of the reasons I wanted to come here today and talk to you ‑‑ and I’m glad so many of you are here because this is really important, but from what I’ve been hearing and seeing today, I think the situation and the facts, the rules, have not been fully understood. And so I think‑‑ and I take great comfort in the fact that we’ve advised the USGA and the R&A as well as the PGA TOUR and the European PGA TOUR of this decision. We’ve explained in just as much detail as you’ve heard, and they are 100 percent behind the utilization of 33‑7.
I mean, there’s no question that Tiger should be penalized. That’s not the issue. The issue is what should we do in imposing that penalty.
I’m pleased that the governing bodies and the Tours are in agreement with our decision. I think does it set precedent? I hope it sets good precedent because I think it is a good decision.
Comment: “I think the situation and the facts, the rules, have not been fully understood.” He got that right.
“We’ve explained in just as much detail as you’ve heard, and they are 100 percent behind the utilization of 33‑7.” This would appear to have got Ridley into some trouble. As mentioned in this blog’s post of 18 April, the R&A immediately issued a statement saying the use of Decisions 33-7 etc was not appropriate in this case. This was obviously a forerunner to a more comprehensive statement on the whole affair. It is now clear to all that neither the R&A nor the USGA were “100% behind utilisation of 33-7.”
“I think does it set precedent? I hope it sets good precedent because I think it is a good decision.” This was always going to be the reason the R&A and USGA had to act. The precedent this would have created, if left unchecked, could have led to chaos as various tournament officials tried to interpret their own version of committee discretion under Rule 33-7. The joint statement’s penultimate paragraph, below, makes this point very clear; “Further, although a Committee should do its best to alert competitors to potential Rules issues that may come to its attention, it has no general obligation to do so; and the fact that a Committee may be aware of such a potential issue before the competitor returns his score card should not, in and of itself, be a basis for waiving a penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d.”
That Augusta National is held in the highest of esteem is not doubted. They are what they are – an exclusive golf club that caters for extremely wealthy gentlemen and two ladies. And from 1934 they have run their own golf tournament along the lines they have seen fit. That this has evolved into one of golf’s most enduring events has a lot to do with the setting around which the tournament is played. But top golf administration, especially of the majors, needs a degree of competence that cannot be doubted. In this instance the Masters were found wanting – not just by media scrutiny, but by both of golf’s ruling bodies no less.
This whole incident must have had a profound effect on Augusta National. Perhaps now club members such as Fred Ridley et al will cease to act as amateur rules officials and maybe, just maybe, they will finally agree to using professional referees to walk with each playing group inside the ropes. Perhaps then this tournament will no longer be viewed among rules officials as “an accident waiting to happen.”
Tiger Woods finished in a tie for fourth, just four shots off the score needed to enter the play-off. He won US$352,000 in prize money. That he pocketed this was down to the most fortunate of incidences – the chance intervention of a TV viewer. Now, imagine the furore if he had won?
I wonder how many involved in the game, whether top administrators, or just humble hackers like me, are finding difficulty suppressing a feeling of schadenfreude?
USGA, THE R&A ISSUE STATEMENT ADDRESSING TIGER WOODS RULING AT THE 2013 MASTERS TOURNAMENT
By USGA, The R&A
May 1, 2013
The United States Golf Association and The R&A, golf’s governing bodies, today released the following statement to provide guidance to players and Rules officials on the Rules decision involving Tiger Woods at the 2013 Masters Tournament.
During the second round, Tiger Woods played his third stroke from the fairway of the 15th hole to the putting green, where his ball struck the flagstick and deflected into the water hazard in front of the green. He elected to take stroke-and-distance relief under Rule 26-1a, incurring a one-stroke penalty (his fourth stroke on the hole). He then dropped and played a ball to the putting green (his fifth stroke), and holed his putt. After finishing his round, he signed and returned his score card, recording a score of 6 for the 15th hole.
Before Woods returned his score card, the Masters Tournament Committee had received an inquiry from a television viewer questioning whether Woods had dropped his ball in a wrong place. After reviewing the available video, but without talking with Woods, the Committee ruled that he had complied with Rule 26-1a and that no penalty had been incurred. The following morning, after additional questions had been raised about the incident in a Woods television interview, the Committee talked with Woods, reviewed the video with him and reversed its decision, ruling that he had incurred a two-stroke penalty for dropping in and playing from a wrong place in breach of Rules 26-1a and 20-7c.
This also meant that, in returning his score card the previous day, Woods had breached Rule 6-6d by returning a score (6) for the 15th hole that was lower than his actual score (8). The penalty for such a breach of Rule 6-6d is disqualification. Under Rule 33-7 (“Disqualification Penalty; Committee Discretion”), a Committee has discretion to waive that penalty in “exceptional individual cases.” As discussed below, the Committee elected to invoke that discretion and waived Woods’ penalty of disqualification.
Explanation of the Rulings
This situation raised two questions of interpretation under the Rules of Golf.
1. The Ruling that Woods Dropped in and Played from a Wrong Place
The first question was whether, after taking relief, Woods played his next stroke in accordance with the Rules. The Masters Tournament Committee ultimately answered no and imposed a two-stroke penalty because Woods did not drop and play a ball “as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played,” as required under Rule 26-1a. The Rules do not define “as nearly as possible” in terms of a specific measured distance, because the conditions unique to each situation can affect how near to the original spot it is possible to drop a ball and because dropping a ball is an imprecise act. But in this type of situation, in which that original spot was clearly identifiable as being just behind the back edge of the divot hole created by Woods’ previous stroke and in which there were no other unusual circumstances, “as nearly as possible” means that the player must attempt to drop the ball on or next to (but not nearer the hole than) that spot. Woods did not do so. In his post-round media comments, he stated that he dropped the ball about two yards behind that divot hole. Although the precise distance away was not determined, he clearly dropped the ball a significant distance away from that spot and did not satisfy the “as nearly as possible” requirement in these circumstances. As a result, he was penalized two strokes for dropping in and playing from a wrong place.
2. The Decision to Waive the Penalty of Disqualification
The second question was whether the Committee was permitted to waive the penalty of disqualification that otherwise applied to Woods under Rule 6-6d, which provides that a competitor “is responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole on his score card. If he returns a score for any hole lower than actually taken, he is disqualified.” For nearly 60 years, the Rules have provided Committees with limited discretion to waive a disqualification penalty. Under Rule 33-7, “[a] penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Committee considers such action warranted.”
Such discretion is not intended to protect a competitor from the consequences of his erroneous application of the Rules. The fact that Woods, when he returned his score card, was not aware that he had incurred a two-stroke penalty on the 15th hole was not a basis to waive disqualification under Rule 33-7. Moreover, contrary to what some have suggested, the decision of the Committee to waive the disqualification penalty for Woods was not and could not have been based on Decision 33-7/4.5, a 2011 Decision that permits waiver of disqualification where “the competitor could not reasonably have known or discovered the facts resulting in his breach of the Rules.” That extremely narrow exception, which relates generally to use of high-definition or slow-motion video to identify facts not reasonably visible to the naked eye, was not applicable here and had no bearing on the Committee’s decision. Woods was aware of the only relevant fact: the location of the spot from which he last played his ball. His two-stroke penalty resulted from an erroneous application of the Rules, which he was responsible for knowing and applying correctly. Viewing the incident solely from the standpoint of Woods’ actions, there was no basis to waive the penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d.
However, the Masters Tournament Committee did not base its exercise of discretion under Rule 33-7 on any circumstances specific to Woods’ knowledge, but rather on the consequences of the Committee’s own actions. Before Woods had returned his score card for the second round, the Committee had received an inquiry from a television viewer questioning whether Woods, in taking relief under Rule 26-1a at the 15th hole, had dropped his ball sufficiently close to the spot from which he had played his original ball. The Committee promptly reviewed an available video and determined that Woods had dropped and played correctly under Rule 26-1a and therefore had not incurred a penalty. The Committee did not talk with Woods before making this ruling or inform him of the ruling. Woods therefore signed and returned his score card without knowledge of the Committee’s ruling or the questions about his drop on the 15th hole. The following morning, after additional questions had been raised about the incident in a television interview, the Committee discussed the incident with Woods, reviewed the video with him and reversed its decision, ruling that Woods had dropped in and played from a wrong place.
In deciding to waive the disqualification penalty, the Committee recognized that had it talked to Woods – before he returned his score card – about his drop on the 15th hole and about the Committee’s ruling, the Committee likely would have corrected that ruling and concluded that Woods had dropped in and played from a wrong place. In that case, he would have returned a correct score of 8 for the 15th hole and the issue of disqualification would not have arisen.
The Decisions on the Rules of Golf authorize a Committee to correct an incorrect decision before the competition has closed, and they establish that where a Committee incorrectly advises a competitor, before he returns his score card, that he has incurred no penalty, and then subsequently corrects its mistake, it is appropriate for the Committee to waive the disqualification penalty. See Decision 34-3/1. The Woods situation differed from the situation in Decision 34-3/1, and in other Decisions that protect a competitor from disqualification where the competitor has relied on erroneous information from a referee or the Committee, in that Woods was not informed of the Committee’s initial ruling and therefore did not rely on the Committee’s advice in returning his score card. This situation therefore raised a question not expressly addressed in the existing Decisions under Rules 33-7 and 34-3 and that reflected two competing considerations. On the one hand, the Decisions provide that the player’s responsibility for his own score is not excused by his ignorance or misapplication of the Rules. On the other hand, the Decisions provide that a Committee may correct an erroneous decision and may take its error into account in determining whether it is appropriate to waive the penalty of disqualification. In effect, based on all of the facts discussed above, in this case both the competitor and the Committee reached an incorrect decision before the score card was returned.
The Masters Tournament Committee concluded that its actions taken prior to Woods’ returning his score card created an exceptional individual case that unfairly led to the potential for disqualification. In hindsight, the Committee determined that its initial ruling was incorrect, as well as that it had erred in resolving this question without first seeking information from Woods and in failing to inform Woods of the ruling. Given the unusual combination of facts – as well as the fact that nothing in the existing Rules or Decisions specifically addressed such circumstances of simultaneous competitor error and Committee error – the Committee reasonably exercised its discretion under Rule 33-7 to waive the penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d, while still penalizing Woods two strokes under Rules 26-1a and 20-7c for playing from a wrong place.
Scope of Committee Discretion to Waive a Penalty of Disqualification for Failure to Return Correct Score
Since this ruling at the 2013 Masters Tournament, the USGA and The R&A have received various inquiries about the scope of a Committee’s discretion to waive a penalty of disqualification where the player has failed to return a correct score card. The Woods ruling was based on exceptional facts, as required by Rule 33-7, and should not be viewed as a general precedent for relaxing or ignoring a competitor’s essential obligation under the Rules to return a correct score card. Further, although a Committee should do its best to alert competitors to potential Rules issues that may come to its attention, it has no general obligation to do so; and the fact that a Committee may be aware of such a potential issue before the competitor returns his score card should not, in and of itself, be a basis for waiving a penalty of disqualification under Rule 6-6d. Only a rare set of facts, akin to the exceptional facts at the 2013 Masters Tournament as summarized in the previous paragraphs, would justify a Committee’s use of its discretion to waive a penalty of disqualification for returning an incorrect score card.
The USGA and The R&A continuously work to monitor and assess the Rules of Golf in practice, to observe and incorporate the lessons of experience, and, as appropriate, to clarify and revise the Rules and Decisions to ensure that the Rules operate in the best interests of the game and that their appropriate interpretation and application are understood and consistently followed. In recent years, the USGA and The R&A have been assessing the Rules that relate to score cards and disqualification. As part of this ongoing assessment, and in keeping with this regular practice, the Rules of Golf Committees of the USGA and The R&A will review the exceptional situation that occurred at the 2013 Masters Tournament, assess the potential implications for other types of situations, and determine whether any adjustment to the Rules and/or the Decisions is appropriate.