Tiger Woods and Brandel Chamblee Are Both Right...and Wrong

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistNovember 3, 2013

HAIKOU, CHINA - OCTOBER 28:  Tiger Woods of the United States hits a shot on the seventh hole during his match against Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland at Blackstone Course  Mission Hills on October 28, 2013 in Haikou, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

By now, most of the golf world has heard about the feud between Tiger Woods and Brandel Chamblee. It began following a Golf.com article in which Chamblee all but came straight out and accused Woods of cheating.

Chamblee’s article, which gave out year-end grades to most of the top players on the PGA Tour, was published on October 15th under the title “Brandel Chamblee’s PGA Tour Season Grades are in – Tiger Woods Gets an ‘F’.”

Chamblee’s critique of Woods’ 2013 seasons was as follows:

When I was in the fourth grade, I cheated on a math test and when I got the paper back it had "100" written at the top and just below the grade, was this quote, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!" It was an oft-quoted line from the epic poem "Marmion" by Sir Walter Scott, and my teacher's message was clear. Written once more beneath that quote was my grade of "100", but this time with a line drawn through it and beneath that an F. I never did ask my teacher how she knew I cheated and I certainly didn't protest the grade. I knew I had done the wrong thing and my teacher the right, but I never forgot the way I felt when I read that quote.

I remember when we only talked about Tiger's golf. I miss those days. He won five times and contended in majors and won the Vardon Trophy and ... how shall we say this ... was a little cavalier with the rules.

Chamblee then gave Woods a score of 100 for the year, but he crossed it out and listed an “F” underneath it.

Chamblee was of course referring to Woods’ high-profile rules violations during the 2013 season.

Woods’ longtime agent Mark Steinberg responded to Chamblee’s article by saying:

There's nothing you can call a golfer worse than a cheater. This is the most deplorable thing I have seen. I'm not one for hyperbole, but this is absolutely disgusting. Calling him a cheater? I'll be shocked, stunned, if something is not done about this. Something has to be done. There are certainly things that just don't go without response. It's atrocious. I'm not sure if there isn't legal action to be taken. I have to give some thought to legal action.

Chamblee later apologized through his Twitter account, posting three tweets within a matter of moments on October 22, and also resigned from his position with Golf Magazine (which owns golf.com).

Golf is a gentleman's game and I'm not proud of this debate. I want to apologize to Tiger for this incited discourse.

— brandel chamblee (@chambleebrandel) October 23, 2013

And no - I was not asked to apologize

— brandel chamblee (@chambleebrandel) October 23, 2013

My intention was to note Tiger's rules infractions this year, but comparing that to cheating in grade school went too far.

— brandel chamblee (@chambleebrandel) October 23, 2013

But did Chamblee really need to apologize for his opinion?

One could certainly argue not only that Chamblee is entitled to his opinion, but that many longtime golf observers might even agree with him.  

Chamblee’s big mistake in all of this was not that he stated his opinion about Woods being “a little cavalier” with the rules, but that he didn’t put his opinion into any real context within his article.  

Woods' first rules violation of the season came in January in Abu Dhabi when he took relief from an embedded lie after consulting with playing partner Martin Kaymer. It was later determined that the ground which Woods took relief from was considered to be a sandy area which did not allow for a free drop. Woods was subsequently assessed a two-stroke penalty and missed the 36-hole cut.

The second penalty occurred at the Masters in April. Woods’ approach shot into the 15th green during Round 2 hit the flag stick and ricocheted back into the pond in front of the green.

From this point, Woods had three options under rule 26-1:

  1. Hit his next shot from the designated drop zone.
  2. Take a line as far back as he would like from where the ball crossed into the hazard (this choice would have put him somewhere behind the grandstands lining the right side of the 15th green).
  3. He could return to the original spot from which he played and drop "as nearly as possible'' from where he played the third shot.

Woods chose the third option—only he intentionally dropped his ball two yards further back from where he had originally hit his third shot.

The Masters Tournament Rules Committee was aware of this possible rules infraction prior to Woods finishing his round. It reviewed the tape and decided on its own that Woods probably hadn’t committed a rules infraction, so it didn’t even bring this potential issue up to Woods prior to Woods signing his scorecard.

Standard protocol at most professional events is to contact the player before he or she signs the scorecard to let the participant know that there was potentially a rules infraction that they would like the participant to examine.

About 20 minutes after Woods had signed his scorecard, he unknowingly admitted to this rules infraction during a post-round interview.

He said:

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. 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.

Now the Masters Rules Committee was in a real pickle. It hadn’t advised Woods that he may have been guilty of a rules infraction on the 15th hole, and Woods had just gone and inadvertently told the world that he had indeed intentionally dropped his ball two yards further back from the spot of his third shot, which is of course not "as nearly as possible'' from where he had initially played the third shot.

So, the Masters Rules Committee was forced to evoke rule 33-7, also known as the “HD TV rule,” which states:

A penalty of disqualification may in exceptional individual cases be waived, modified or imposed if the Rules Committee considers such action warranted.

If the Committee is satisfied that the competitor could not reasonably have known or discovered the facts resulting in his breach of the Rules, it would be justified under Rule 33-7 in waiving the disqualification penalty prescribed…The penalty stroke(s) associated with the breach would, however, be applied to the hole where the breach occurred.

Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty rather than being disqualified from the event for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Just a few weeks later at the Players Championship, Woods was once again questioned about a drop he took on the 14th hole during the final round.

Woods had hit his drive into the water but was unsure of exactly where his ball had crossed into the hazard, so he consulted his playing partner, Casey Wittenberg. Wittenberg gave Woods his opinion on where the ball had crossed. Woods agreed and dropped his ball at that exact location.

However, many felt after viewing videotape that Woods gave himself a break by dropping further ahead than he should have been allowed. He made a double-bogey six on the hole but still went on to win the tournament.

These three rules infractions were of course unfortunate for Woods’ scorecards, but they would in no way warrant being labeled a “cheater.”  

However, Woods' final rules violation of the season was the one that should have truly warranted some further questioning.

Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty when a high definition camera showed his ball move as he attempted to remove a twig from behind it on the first hole of Round 2 of the BMW Championship (Woods’ 10th hole of the day).

As you can see in the video, Woods immediately paused when his ball began to move but did not call in a rules official or asses himself a penalty for causing his ball to move from its original lie.

At this point, most would have still given Woods the benefit of the doubt. We are talking about a very minor move of the ball, and from Woods’ vantage point, it could have appeared as if the ball had just oscillated and not moved from its position.

But the fact that after Woods was shown this video by Slugger White, the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules and competition, and still maintained that the ball did not move from its original position indicates an approach to the rules of the game that many would consider to be, as Chamblee said, a bit “cavalier.”

When discussing the rules violation the next day, Woods said, "As I said, from my vantage point, I thought it just oscillated and that was it. They replayed it again and again and again. And I felt the same way."

While from Woods’ vantage point out on the course he could have potentially believed that the ball had done nothing more than oscillate, there is absolutely no question that the video footage shows his ball moved from its original position.

But despite the video footage, White implied that Woods might not have been the most graceful when forced to accept the two-stroke penalty.  

Woods would later say,

I was pretty hot because I felt like nothing happened. 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.

The one at Augusta after going through it on Saturday morning, yeah, I did take the wrong drop. But yesterday I didn't feel like I did anything. And as I said, I described it in there and I said I moved the pine cone right behind my ball. I feel like the ball oscillated, and I just left it. Evidently, it wasn't enough.

For a professional golfer who is supposed to hold the rules of the game above all else during the course of competition, this unrelenting stance by Woods in the face of clear visual evidence is quite shocking.

What is even more shocking is that very few writers and analysts actually called Woods out on this matter.

It was as if Woods’ 14 career majors and 79 PGA Tour wins somehow gave him a pass on any potential rules violations.

Chamblee is clearly not afraid to have an opinion. In some ways he should be commended for that, especially when so many other golf writers and analysts out there are simply scared, for lack of a better term, to publish anything that paints Woods in a negative light.

That being said, Chamblee’s behavior over the course of many years as a Golf Channel analyst must also be taken into account.

Chamblee’s harsh criticism of Woods virtually every time he appears on television or puts a pen to paper can come across as a bit much.  

Watching Chamblee blurt out one scathing critique of Woods after another can, at times, be awkward to even watch. His criticism of Woods often seems to skirt the line between an analyst simply having an opinion and a man who for whatever reason appears to have some form of personal dislike for Woods.

So, it is not difficult to see how Woods and Steinberg had finally had enough of Chamblee after reading his latest attack. Chamblee essentially called Woods a cheater, which is just about the worst thing that anyone can call a golfer at any level.

On the other side of the coin, Woods also needs to realize that the media is not here to serve him. And despite all of his success and all of the attention he has brought to golf, the media has every right to call him out on rules violations where he is quite clearly in the wrong.

This is one argument where both men are right in some ways and wrong in others.

Good for Chamblee for actually having the guts to say what many had already been thinking about Woods’ 2013 rules violations, particularly at the BMW Championship; and good for Woods for finally saying enough is enough to Chamblee’s over-the-top attacks on him.

This tension between Woods and Chamblee has been brewing for years, and Chamblee’s latest attack, whether you agree with his opinion or not, seems to have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

So where does this battle go from here?

Well, from this point it would be wise for both men to take a step back, learn from their mistakes, and simply move on.  

Woods is not above the law, and Chamblee needs to focus less on attacking and more on analyzing.


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