Tiger Woods should have been disqualified.
The fact he was not, is not his fault.
Tiger made a mistake on the 15th hole at the Masters on Friday. He made bigger mistake on Saturday.
On Friday, he thought he could drop the ball where he did, when in fact he needed to drop it 2-yards closer. As recently as two years ago the improper drop, once the scorecard was signed, would have led to automatic disqualification.
The controversy starts with the Masters and its rules committee. They made two major errors. First, Friday night when told that Tiger may have made an improper drop (while he was still playing), they reviewed the videotape and determined he did nothing wrong.
What? It's clear, that his drop on the 15th hole was not "as nearly as possible" from where his previous shot had been played, which is what Rule 26-1 clearly states needs to happen. The Masters rules’ committee should have told Tiger after his round that he made an error and assessed him the two-stroke penalty at that time.
He messed up. He pays the price. Life moves on.
Once Tiger signed his scorecard everything changed because in golf, the scorecard is sacred. It's the bible. Virtually, nothing else matters.
Virtually, because two years ago the USGA and R&A (the two governing bodies of golf worldwide) made a rule change allowing for some wiggle room. They created Rule 33 -- a provision allowing for a 2-stroke penalty to be assessed after the fact instead of disqualification “if” -- and these words are the key to whole controversy.
"the situation where a player is not aware he has breached a Rule because of the facts that he did not know and could not reasonably have discovered prior to returning his score card."
Tiger clearly did not know he made an improper drop (he unknowingly admits to the rules violation during a TV interview after round) but could have "reasonably" discovered his error if the Masters rules officials had done their job properly. Since Masters’ officials clearly messed up they decided (understandably if you think about it), how can we disqualify a player when we took a look at it and didn't tell him he messed up? However, Tiger also could have asked a rules official, while playing the 15th hole, about his options, procedures, etc. This action certainly would be deemed "reasonable."
In golf, following the rules is a responsibility that falls predominantly on the player.
However, once he was not disqualified, Tiger found himself in a pickle. The facts are indisputable. He made an illegal drop (unknowingly), did so intentionally (his words after the round), gained an advantage by that drop (in his mind it’s why he dropped it there), signed an improper scorecard and was not disqualified.
There is no place for ambiguity in this sport. This was not the intended wiggle room when golf’s governing bodies created Rule 33. This is golf we are talking about. This is a game of honor. This is a sport that its players -- past and present -- proudly tell everyone: "We call penalties on ourselves."
What Tiger did, knowingly or not, is interpreted by most serious golfers as cheating.
Here we go again, Tiger Woods and cheating in the same sentence. What irony. Only this time it’s worse. Because no matter his personal life, Tiger’s golfing resume remained pure and prolific.
That was until now.
Tiger had four hours to consider pulling out of the 2013 Masters. Nick Faldo, a three-time Masters champion (and as a golfing commentator who has hardly ever uttered a bad word about Tiger) said on the Golf Channel, "Tiger should really sit down and think about this and what it will leave on his legacy. Personally, this is dreadful."
Tiger should have been disqualified. When he wasn't, the player considered by many to be bigger than the sport, should have withdrawn.
The Masters failed Tiger. The officials put him in a bad spot. But at the end of the day he had a chance to show his true colors, not just as a person but as a golfer.
And he did.
David Moulton co-hosts "Miller and Moulton in the Afternoon" weekdays 2 to 6 pm on Southwest Florida's ESPN Radio (101.5 FM, Bonita/North Naples; 105.1 FM, Naples/Marco Island). His freelance column appears Sundays, Wednesday and Friday.