Same old silliness follows Tiger Woods to U.S. Open | Golf | CBC Sports

GolfSame old silliness follows Tiger Woods to U.S. Open

Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 | 11:21 AM

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Tiger Woods and his swing coach Sean Foley stroll past a phalanx of camera-toting golf fans at Merion Golf Club on Tuesday. (Adam Hunger/Reuters) Tiger Woods and his swing coach Sean Foley stroll past a phalanx of camera-toting golf fans at Merion Golf Club on Tuesday. (Adam Hunger/Reuters)

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Tiger Woods is again the centre of attention at this week's U.S. Open, but he finds himself dealing with tired, old controversies that have nothing to do with trying to win the tournament. 

Pro golf's pregnant pause -- the two months between the Masters and the U.S. Open -- is over and the waterlogged festivities of the latter tees off Thursday at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Penn.

Tiger Woods is again the centrepiece attraction and, on purely competitive terms, he warrants the attention, having won four times this season and re-acquired the world's No. 1 ranking.

Notable, though, is that talk surrounding Woods only seems to touch on his considerable accomplishments to date this season, instead focusing on what transpired at the Masters in April and the distasteful comments made about him by Sergio Garcia a few weeks ago.

Garcia, a player long on talent and short on maturity, made a stupid, racially-tinged remark at the European Tour's PGA Championship a couple of weeks after the two men engaged in some petty tit-for-tat in the media at the Players Championship. The exchange was pretty tame stuff in comparison to other sports, but the golf world was robbed of an epic final showdown when Garcia suffered one of his signature brain cramps on Sawgrass's signature 17th hole -- the one with the iconic island green -- and dunked his ball twice.

Garcia's stupid attempt at humour ("We will serve fried chicken" to Woods at dinner) during the lead-up to the European circuit's flagship event was completely inappropriate and he knew it instantly after making it. Garcia has apologized both in the media and in person to Woods, who has accepted it but seems annoyed that, once every few years, the subject of race comes up involving him.

There is another far less important topic, if only those talking about it could realize that, still floating around Woods, stemming from this year's Masters.

For those who need reminding, Woods was the victim of a tough break when he looked to be in position to eagle the 15th hole, only to have his ball strike the flagstick and roll back into the water. He eventually took a six, when at least a birdie was all but a certainty, and later was adjudged to have taken a bad drop that turned his six into an eight. That's a four- and perhaps five-shot swing.

Later that night, a caller who was later identified as Champions Tour player David Eger, got the collective ear of Augusta National's rules officials and pointed out that Woods took an illegal drop and basically admitted as much in a post-round interview with ESPN.

Suddenly, in the space of a few hours, Woods went from possibly taking control of the major championship to staring disqualification in the face. Instead, he was given a pass and assessed a two-shot penalty in accordance to a ruling by the Masters rules committee.

Woods played only so-so on the weekend, finishing fourth as Adam Scott won his first major -- with Woods' former caddie, Steve Williams, on the likeable Aussie's bag.

Case closed, move on and let's talk about whether Woods can write a final chapter in his personal comeback from injury, divorce and poor play to win his first major in five years, right?

Not so fast.

Woods has been caught in a low-level controversy that is still bubbling to the surface because he didn't disqualify himself at the Masters for signing an incorrect scorecard, as is customary in golf because a player is responsible for his own score.

In other words, Woods unwittingly broke a rule and gained zero advantage from it, all the while absorbing a shockingly bad break that could have cost him the tournament -- and it's HIS fault that he wasn't penalized further and/or that he didn't DQ himself.

The fact that the people in charge of the rules not only said he was free and clear (having taken a two-shot penalty) accepted that they were at least partially at fault for allowing him to sign his card, seems lost on those who are pointing the finger at Woods.
 
It's important to understand this matter isn't exactly dogging Woods in the sense he is being asked about it incessantly and being labelled a cheater. Rather, it's more low-level and consistent chatter, encapsulated best by editor Jerry Tarde's "what could have been" column in this month's Golf Digest.

The reality is, "what could have been" left the barn literally decades ago. Golf's rules are what they are. Some are open to interpretation and changes in the game mean they are impossible to apply consistently for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because people such as Eger believe it's appropriate to point out a violation from afar, without context and without an advantage being gained in allegedly breaking them.

Worse, players involved have to endure the suggestion that they were cheating in a game that considers those who bend the rules roughly on par (pun fully intended) with people serving long prison sentences.

Woods got unlucky. His ball hammered the pin, went into the water, placed his ball not quite where he was supposed to, wasn't told there was an issue and so signed his card. By unwittingly telling the world about it through ESPN's microphone, it is plainly obvious there was zero ill intent. He later took the penalty and played on. End of story.

But the story never quite ends with Woods, even when the narrative is as imperfect as the rules as golf.

Follow Peter Robinson on Twitter @PRGolfWriter

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