Out of bounds to call Tiger a cheat

It’s hard to believe Brandel Chamblee, a former Tour player and now an often-prescient Golf Channel analyst, was once a huge Tiger Woods fan.

Even these days, when Chamblee is down there with Sergio Garcia on Woods’ Christmas card list, there’s a glint in his eye when he talks about the greatness of the 2000s-era Tiger.

Woods, though, makes it hard for someone like Chamblee.

The Tiger Rules are as simple as they are impossible for anyone with any credibility in the media to accept: If you’re not always with him, then you’re against him.

Suffice to say — as I have learned over the years — Tiger doesn’t take criticism, even if it’s not personal, well.

Woods doesn’t understand — or, more accurately, won’t accept — that in order for Chamblee to properly do his job, the picture can’t always be rosy. The analyst is paid to call it as he sees it, and he does.

The problem, however, is Chamblee, who became more and more strident in his criticism after the Sean Foley swing changes, should’ve taken the high road with Woods. He should’ve been critical when it was warranted but acknowledged Woods’ achievements, too.

Instead, Chamblee has met Woods’ fire with fire, which has turned him into a sort of Skip Bayless caricature, taking cheap shots.

None cheaper than his latest.

Hiding behind semantics, Chamblee calls Woods a cheat.

The “C” word is the scarlet letter of golf. There’s nothing worse to label a golfer; no golfer ever really rids himself of its stain. Early in his career, Vijay Singh was accused of changing a score in the 1985 Indonesian Open in order to make the cut. His subsequent suspension haunts him to this day.

Colin Montgomerie has never been able to live down his 2005 replacement of a ball — ironically, also at the Indonesian Open — that clearly gave him an advantage.

Writing in Golf magazine, Chamblee gives Woods an “F” on a season that included five wins and the Player of the Year award, voted on by Woods’ peers who presumably wouldn’t give such an award to a cheat.

Why a failing grade?

“How shall we say this?” asks Chamblee, who couched the “F” by telling a story of how he’d been caught cheating on a math test in the fourth grade. “He was a little cavalier with the rules.”

Chamblee goes on to give himself an “F” on the season but adds “at least I earned this one honestly.”

The implication is clear.

Woods has, it should be said, run afoul of the rules more often this season than any other in his career. He took an illegal drop in Abu Dhabi after consulting playing partner Martin Kaymer and notoriously dropped from the wrong spot at the Masters. At The Players — which he won — Woods took a drop after rinsing his tee shot on the 14th hole that conspiracy theorists say was incorrect.

Finally — and by far most disturbingly — he tried to move a twig behind his ball at the BMW Championship last month, moving his ball in the process. Woods maintained the ball merely oscillated, which wouldn’t incur a penalty.

The first two incidents prove what anyone on the tour has long known: Players don’t have a very good grasp of the Rules of Golf.

“I don’t know the rules book,” admits Bubba Watson, “So I always call the rules official.”

Woods knows the rules better than most but clearly doesn’t know them as well as he thinks he does. But here’s the point: He paid for his mistakes at Abu Dhabi and Augusta National with the correct two-shot penalties. They led to a missed cut in the Middle East and may have cost him a shot at a green jacket.

At TPC Sawgrass, Woods’ playing partner Casey Wittenberg had no problem with the drop Woods took after finding the water on the 14th hole.

“I saw it perfectly off the tee,” Wittenberg later told me. “I told him exactly where I thought it crossed, and we all agreed, so he’s definitely great on that.”

There are those, however, who have it in for Woods, so he’ll never be “definitely great on that” to them. The last incident in Chicago reveals more about Woods than it does about his adherence to the rules. To the naked eye, it wasn’t clear Woods’ ball moved when he was trying to move that twig on the first hole at Conway Farms. In Super slow-mo HD, however, the ball is seen to move.

It’s reasonable to believe Woods thought it merely oscillated. His reaction, however, wasn’t reasonable.

According to someone who was in the scoring trailer, Woods unleashed a verbal volley of foul language at rules official Slugger White when informed he’d been assessed a two-shot penalty.

White tried to show Woods a video of the incident, but he wasn’t in the mood to watch anything. If he had paid attention, he’d have seen White was right. But Woods refuses to be wrong sometimes, so he stormed off.

What it proves is that he can certainly be a petulant child at times.

But that doesn’t break any of the Rules of Golf.