AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods will be trying to come from behind for his fifth green jacket Sunday at the Masters.
If he makes a charge, his play will shake the very ground of Augusta National Golf Club.
But as far as Woods is concerned, this should be a silent spring. After what happened in Friday’s second round, Woods should have been disqualified or pulled himself out of the competition.
To recap, Tiger went to the par-5 15th hole Friday at 5-under-par, in the thick of contention near the midway point of the 77th Masters.
He hit a perfectly struck wedge shot to the green. Too perfect. The ball clanged off the pin and spun a hasty retreat back into the pond fronting the green.
It must be said that what happened to Woods was a terrible break, the worst of his career. If he doesn’t hit the pin, at worst he makes par. Everything else being equal, Woods is one stroke off the lead at 6-under going into the final round.
He pitched up and made a remarkable bogey 6, finishing with another at 18 to card a 71 and stand at 3-under.
But the second pitch shot is the rub.
Woods, to be blunt, cheated. He may not have intended to, but he admitted to ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi that he went back 6 feet from his first divot to make his drop for the reloaded shot.
Masters officials reviewed the situation but called no further penalty. Then some wise guy — two wise guys, actually — watching on TV called in to say Woods deserved a penalty.
There are few things more loathsome than a snitch with a remote and a telephone, but Masters officials were compelled to re-examine the drop. They assessed Tiger a two-stroke penalty but allowed him to stay in the tournament, citing the recently created Rule 33, which is designed to protect players from bad rulings. Since he didn’t get penalized before he signed his card, the ruling was that he couldn’t be disqualified for a retroactive decision.
So woods played Saturday, with modest success by his standards. He shot a 70 and is tied for seventh at 3-under, four back of ex-Vandy golfer Brandt Snedeker and 2009 Masters champ Angel Cabrera.
Woods has won 14 major championships but remarkably has never come from behind in any of them. So what faces Tiger on Sunday appears by all counts to be a no-win scenario.
The last time Woods slammed into something that cost him this much was the fire hydrant outside his house back in Isleworth. If he wins, the victory will be tainted. If he goes on to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 career majors by one, or even merely tie it, the achievement will be tainted.
Those who don’t get what all the fuss is about don’t know golf. This is a sport with rules officials, but none more important than yourself. Webb Simpson called a penalty on himself during the final round of the 2011 Zurich Classic of New Orleans when his ball wobbled on the green as he prepared to putt, eventually handing the victory to Bubba Watson.
No one else saw it, including Watson. But Simpson did. He couldn’t have lived with himself if he won under such circumstances. Karma rewarded him last year with a hard-fought U.S. Open victory at Olympic in San Francisco.
You can argue that Woods actually demonstrated greater respect for the game by heeding the decision of the court. Perhaps.
But in the long run, by withdrawing he would have recaptured some of that good will that he lost four years ago after he hit that hydrant and unleashed the torrent of a torrid sex scandal.
Woods deals in the realities of hard numbers, birdies and eagles and pars. But there is also the reality of perception, and the perception is Woods was given a break because he is Tiger Woods, the world No. 1 and the game’s most marketable asset.
“They would have DQ’d me for sure,” former LSU golfer John Peterson said after his round.
Whether they would have or not, the perception is Woods got favorable treatment.
As it is, Tiger will play Sunday, he will wear something red, and he will play to win. As he should.
But it would be better for the Masters, and for him, if he doesn’t. Better for golf if the famous Augusta roars are reserved for someone else.
Someone who didn’t break the rules.