In the wake of a third rules violation this season at the BMW Championship, Tiger Woods’ integrity and respect for the rules of golf are being publicly criticized.
The question is whether the game’s top-ranked player is simply guilty of a few ill-timed mistakes caught on camera or whether he truly has little regard for the sport’s sacred rules when they interfere with an opportunity to win a golf tournament.
Criticism always comes hard and fast at Woods, but the reality is his latest rules issue, and more to the point his reaction to it, do show a level of disrespect for the rules of golf and those charged with enforcing them.
That said, this incident is not the measure of the man who has spent more than 15 years competing at the highest level of the sport. Rather it's an unfortunate misstep that neither changes his importance to the game nor takes away from his significant accomplishments in it.
His most recent transgression came at last week’s BMW Championship. Woods was deemed to have moved a ball from its position behind the green while clearing a twig. Video caught the action and Slugger White, PGA Tour’s vice president of competition, assessed Tiger a two-shot penalty.
Despite watching the tape several times with White, Woods steadfastly maintains he did nothing wrong and should not have suffered the penalty.
"I was pretty hot because I felt like nothing happened," Woods said at Conway Farms this weekend. "I felt like the ball oscillated and that was it. I played the rest of the round grinding my tail off to get myself back in the tournament, and then go from five to seven behind. That was tough."
At least one former-player-turned-analyst isn't buying it and points to the video as proof.
The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee said Wednesday he believed Woods knowingly violated the rules and deserves more than just the two-shot penalty he ultimately got.
The former PGA Tour professional appeared on the John Feinstein Show on CBS Radio and said the violation should cost him Player of the Year honors.
Given what transpired at the BMW and him being caught on videotape moving his golf ball, not alerting anybody to it, denying it, I wouldn't vote for him—nor should his peers vote for him—for Player of the Year.
He was caught in the most definitive act of violating a rule of any great player in the history of the game—and he should in no way be Player of the Year. No way. His peers should not stand for that. Golf should not stand for that.
That’s obviously a strong rebuke for the 14-time major winner. But considering the trouble he’s had with the rules this year, most notably at Augusta National back in April, it’s not terribly surprising.
No other sport values and protects its rules the way golf does. Players are expected to call penalties on themselves the moment they recognize an infraction or to seek council from a rules official to avoid a transgression when in doubt.
There was a bad drop in the second round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship back in January that resulted in a two-shot penalty and caused Woods to miss the cut by one shot.
Following that miscue came the now-infamous drop on the 15th hole in the second round of the Masters back in April, which almost led to Tiger's disqualification for signing a wrong scorecard.
Ultimately, the rules committee opted not to disqualify him and assessed just a two-shot penalty for the bad drop.
While Woods admitted he made a mistake on the hole, he was criticized by some players and media for not withdrawing from the event. Many felt he didn't take full responsibility, and that by remaining in the field he did the game a significant disservice.
Other players defended his decision to play on and acknowledged that Woods operates in a fishbowl that is far more than any other golfer on tour has to deal with.
To be fair to Tiger, none of these infractions appeared to be an intentional attempt to skirt the rules. They also shouldn't completely overshadow his five PGA Tour victories this year and the fact that he is in solid position to win a third FedEx Cup this weekend.
That said, three penalties in a span of nine months do suggest a larger issue for Woods. Perhaps it’s a lack of focus on the rules combined with poor judgment at the wrong time. It might even be that frustration with his swing at times leads Tiger to struggle with the mental side of his game when on the course.
All three of the infractions did come when Woods had found trouble of one kind or another.
Whatever it is, Tiger’s credibility and respect for the game have certainly come into question this year. While harsh, Chamblee was right to criticize him for his handling of the issue at Conway Farms.
The bottom line, however, is Woods doesn't need to cheat to win golf tournaments. He’s proven that 79 times over on the PGA Tour and amassed more than $109 million in earnings.
He does, however, have to do a better job of avoiding the mistakes that have cost him both his reputation and from a competitive standpoint this year.
If he can’t manage to do that, he’ll have to at least get better at owning up to his miscues when they do arise.
As the best golfer in the world and the face of the sport, that’s the absolute least he can do.