It was disorienting to see Tiger Woods, after being assessed a two-stroke penalty in the second round of the BMW Championship for improperly causing his ball to move, continue to argue he didn’t do it.
It meant going against the judgment of venerated PGA
Tour rules official Slugger White. It meant essentially
ignoring close-up film evidence that showed the ball lower
and turn slightly in soft ground after Woods removed a
nearby twig. It was Woods essentially attaching his reputa-
tion to an old punch line: “Who you going to believe, me or
your lyin’ eyes?”
Perhaps Woods was manufacturing a motivating scenario,
or striking back at the tyranny of having his every move on
the course hyper-scrutinized. Woods has always had a tough
time admitting a mistake, a trait that former PGA Tour
commissioner Deane Beman once said is “more true the
more successful the player.” And Woods takes pride in being
stubborn, illustrated when he recreated the awkward scene
in the scoring trailer. “They replayed it again and again and
again,” he said, “and I felt the same way.”
Whatever satisfaction, though, Woods
gained by sticking to his guns, he was
playing a dangerous game in which he
had nothing to win, and a lot to lose.
In his 17 years as a pro, Woods as a
golfer has built a reputation among his
peers for being honorable and respectful
of the game’s rules and traditions.
Even after three previous rules
controversies this year, the most celebrated
being his bad drop on the 15th hole during the second round of
the Masters, Woods’ integrity among other players has never
been in question. It was presumed that in the event of a close
call, Woods would follow the competitor’s unwritten rule of
taking a penalty to erase any doubt of impropriety.
It’s a tradition especially followed by the greatest champions,
who customarily feel the highest obligation to represent the
game at its best. The most magnanimity is reserved for rules
questions involving an accidentally moved ball. There’s a
long history of self-imposed penalties in which no one but the
player saw the ball move, starting with Bobby Jones at the
1925 U.S. Open. Inbee Park at the Evian Championship and
Nick Watney at the BMW each called penalties on them-
selves for improperly causing their balls to move.
But Woods broke with that tradition at Conway Farms. It’s
not that his claim—that in real time he believed his ball only
oscillated—wasn’t believable. That assertion would have
held up against the word of another player or a fan, or even
the challenge of an official. But the close-up image captured
on film made all testimony moot.
That Woods disputed the visual evidence in the scoring
trailer, to the point of admittedly getting “pretty hot,” evoked
the image of Michelle Wie’s petulant and feeble self-defense
at the 2010 Kia Classic, when she said she had grounded her
club in the water to balance herself. It was a claim that video
replay clearly refuted.
At the BMW, Woods had a chance on Saturday to wipe the
slate clean by saying that he had been in error and accepted
his penalty as proper. Instead, his unbending denial in the
face of such strong evidence hurt his good name. Now there
is potential to doubt that Woods will keep protecting the field
above his own self-interest. It means all the respect he has
earned is unofficially under reassessment.
It has happened to others. When Colin Montgomerie
denied he had moved his ball while addressing a putt at the
2002 Volvo Masters, he was given a pass. But when cameras
determined Montgomerie replaced his ball in an improved
position at the 2005 Indonesia Open, many players retroactively revoked it while tempering their former regard for the
Hall of Famer.
Woods could be similarly evaluated. Although many
questioned the location of his drop after he pulled his drive
into the water on the 14th hole on his way to victory at the
Players Championship, an aerial shot was inconclusive and
Woods, who had received agreement on where to drop from
playing partner Casey Wittenberg, was absolved of suspicion.
After the BMW, that drop may be remembered differently.
None of this will be talked about by the players publicly.
There is no percentage in saying anything less than positive
words about Woods. And it’s part of the players’ code to keep
such things among themselves.
Moreover, the players above all others appreciate how
very difficult it is to be Tiger Woods. It makes them that
much more admiring of his game, and that much more
forgiving of his flaws. But that doesn’t keep what happened
at the BMW from being disorienting. N
What penalty now for Tiger?
Whatever satisfaction Woods gained by
sticking to his guns regarding whether his ball
moved or not, he was playing a dangerous game
in which he had nothing to win, and a lot to lose.
BY JAIME DIAZ