Love him or hate him, Tiger Woods is back atop the golf world, and he’s not going away any time soon.
Those who anxiously awaited Woods’ return to the forefront of the sport have embraced the world No. 1 golfer’s resurgence, heralding his 2013 success as both a positive turn for Woods’ and a boost for the sport.
That faction may not be the majority, however.
Since Woods announced his presence with wins at the Farmers Insurance Open, World Golf Championships and Arnold Palmer Invitational, controversy has followed the 37-year-old from tournament to tournament—including two controversial happenings at the Players Championship last weekend.
On Day 3 of that event, playing partner Sergio Garcia accused Woods of inciting the crowd during his backswing by pulling a club from his bag before Garcia had played his ball. According to James Corrigan of The Telegraph, Garcia had this to say:
Well, obviously Tiger was on the left and it was my turn to hit. He moved all the crowd that he needed to move, I waited for that. You do have a feel when the other guy is going to hit and right as I was in the top of the backswing, he must have pulled a wood and everybody started screaming.
Nothing much came of the dispute (short of Garcia’s Sunday collapse a day later), but that wasn’t the only incident that called Woods’ integrity into question.
On Sunday at the Players Championship, Woods hooked his tee shot into the water at No. 14. A routine drop later, the world No. 1 would play his ball and cruise to a convincing two-stroke victory over a trio of tough challengers.
As it turns out, that drop may not have been so routine after all.
Despite initial reassurance that he had dropped in the right place, Woods has come under fire about his drop placement. According to Bob Harig of ESPN, the 37-year-old should have dropped further from the hole:
All kinds of video sleuths and rules gurus are analyzing the flight of Woods' tee shot, the words of the NBC announcers, and coming to the conclusion that he was in error to drop where he did -- that he should have dropped much farther back, arguably making the hole more difficult.
This comes on the heels of an infamous snafu at the Masters involving another misplaced drop by Woods that resulted in a two-stroke penalty and an eventual fourth-place finish.
In fairness to those who have called Woods’ integrity into question, he clearly made a mistake at the Masters. And if all other reports are true, he may have made a similar mistake at the Players Championship.
But why is so much emphasis being placed on these situations? And why now?
The obvious answer is that Woods has broken the rules on more than one occasion, and if he is to continue dominating the sport in 2013, he should be expected to do so with the utmost integrity of the rules.
But the fact is, these situations happen all the time in professional golf. There is no shortage of examples of players misunderstanding the rules or making a major mistake in drop placement. It’s just part of the sport.
Woods’ polarizing personality and prior indiscretions have made him a target for criticism, though. While other golfers are making similar mistakes and remaining largely out of the spotlight, Woods is enduring the criticism of those who want the world’s best golfer to fail—or at least play poorly enough to give everyone else a chance.
None of these situations would be as magnified were Woods not winning at a torrid pace in 2013. With four wins in seven events this year, there’s no denying his return to the top of the sport.
Much to the dismay of those who enjoyed his absence.
As long as Woods is winning, controversy will continue to follow him. In a sport with so much ambiguity, doubters will always find a reason to call his veracity into question, especially if he is no longer struggling off the tee and missing cuts in major tournaments.
Some of the criticism may be warranted, but if Woods is worthy of the condemnation, so is the bevy of fellow tour players that have made similar mistakes. If all things are equal, so too should the criticism be.
Time will tell if more incidents will plague Woods this season, but if his last two tournaments are any indication, this won’t be the last we hear of Woods making a highly publicized mistake.