Many believe that Tiger Wood’s legacy will ultimately be tainted by his off-the-course infidelities, which came into the public eye in late 2009.
That may be true for casual golf fans, but in the eyes of true golf fans, that was never really an issue. True fans of the game could care less what Woods does with his personal time. True fans of the game are simply concerned with the game of golf and Woods’ legacy on the golf course.
Up until now, Woods’ on-the-course legacy has only been slightly tainted by his foul language and the childish temper tantrums he often displays when things aren’t going his way.
But aside from some anger-control issues, Woods has always been a gentleman in terms of the way he respects his fellow competitors and the rules of the game—until now.
On Friday afternoon at Augusta National, Woods hit the flagstick with his third shot on the par-five 15th. His ball then ricocheted off of the flagstick and into the water just beside the Sarazen Bridge.
At this point, Woods decided to take a drop from where he had hit his third, shot which was one of the three options available to him under rule 26-1 of the USGA rule book. Rule 26-1 explicitly states that under the drop option Woods decided to take, a player must drop his ball “as near as possible” to where he had hit his last shot.
And therein lies the controversy.
Woods dropped his ball a couple of yards behind where he had initially hit his third shot. Ordinarily, this may be not be a major issue and most would have viewed this as within the “as near as possible” grey area.
However, Woods came off of the course and stated that he had intentionally dropped his ball two yards farther from where he had originally hit his third shot onto the green.
According to Woods (per the New York Times):
“I went down to the drop area, that wasn't going to be a good spot, because obviously it's into the grain, it's really grainy there,” Woods said after his round. “And it was a little bit wet so it was muddy and not a good spot to drop. So I went back to where I played it from, but I went two yards further back and I took, tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit.”
Woods didn’t know it at the time, but this statement was essentially an admission of guilt.
Woods likely didn’t know the exact wording of rule 26-1 at the time, but ignorance is also not an excuse for breaking the rules. Woods’ statement after his round is a clear admission that he intentionally dropped his ball two yards farther back from where he should have, which is a blatant breach of rule 26-1 as stated in the USGA rule book.
The Masters Tournament rules committee reviewed Woods' drop on 15 and ultimately decided to asses Woods a two-stroke penalty rather than disqualifying him from the event from signing an incorrect scorecard.
The Masters Tournament rules committee is of course entitled to their own interpretation of the Rules of Golf. But most fans of the game will see this as a clear and intentional violation of rule 26-1, and if there is anything that can forever taint a golfer’s legacy in the game, it is being branded as a cheater.
That is a branding that typically sticks with a golfer for not only the remainder of his career but for the remainder of his life, particularly when the ruling in question occurs during a major championship, as it has with Woods.
As of the writing of this article, Woods still has two-and-a-half hours until his third-round tee time at Augusta National.
And if Woods has any concern about his ultimate legacy in this game, he will decide to do the right thing prior to stepping onto the first tee at Augusta National this afternoon.
For more golf news, insight and analysis, check out The Tour Report.