Tiger not DQ'd, not to blame
Diego Maradona deviously punched the ball into the net in the 1986 World Cup and then had the gall to credit the winning goal to “the hand of God.”
Yet despite the fact that he’s a cheat who rubbed our noses in his appalling handiwork, the Argentine still is lauded as perhaps the greatest soccer player in modern history.
Every week in soccer, players dive in the box looking to con referees into awarding bogus penalties and nothing really happens to them.
And yet, here we are, up in arms because Tiger Woods inadvertently took an incorrect drop — and was subsequently penalized — at the Masters.
In football, linemen try to hold illegally all the time, but how many of them put their hands up and point this out to the officials who missed their infringements?
“Hey, ref, call that touchdown run back, man, I held that D-lineman” is a phrase you’ll never hear on Sundays in the NFL.
Yet the angry villagers had their pitchforks in the air on Saturday, demanding Woods be disqualified from the Masters.
“I think it would have done him a world of good to have disqualified himself. I think he should have said to the committee, ‘Thank you for your thoughts, but I have broken this rule, and I am going to call it on myself,’” said analyst and three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo.
Baseball’s biggest modern stars took steroids while many heroes of yesteryear smothered foreign substances on the ball or filled bats with cork to gain illegal advantages.
In basketball, 7-foot adonises flop to the hardwood as if mortally wounded if an opponent’s hand as much as disturbs the air around them.
But on the longest of Masters Saturdays, Woods was painted by those who have had it in for him as Public Enemy No. 1 because he didn’t voluntarily withdraw from the tournament, despite no compelling reason to abandon his quest for a 15th major.
The most difficult commodity to find when it comes to Woods is perspective.
There’s rarely any balance with him because he’s become the most polarizing figure in not just golf, but all of sports.
But, simply put, he is not the villain of this story.
Woods certainly benefited from a lenient ruling that effectively commuted what could’ve been a death sentence and allowed him to keep playing in the Masters.
He did drop his ball in the wrong place during Friday’s second round. But, as he said on Saturday after turning in a 2-under-par round of 70 at Augusta National, “Under the Rules of Golf I was able to play.”
He was assessed a two-shot penalty, which he accepted, and for him, that was the end of the story.
His second round 71 became a 73, but he still lurked at 3-under par, just four shots behind co-leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera going into Sunday’s final round.
That, of course, wasn’t enough for Woods’ many detractors.
Like the religious zealots I walk past every day to get into the grounds here, they screamed that a Woods’ win would come with an asterisk.
But it will not.
Even Faldo, when he heard the facts later in the day, changed his tone, saying that the issue had been buried.
Of course, it wouldn’t be.
If there is an antagonist in what’s really an ugly blot on golf’s most special tournament, it’s Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters Competition Committee.
If Ridley, a former USGA president and former US Amateur champion, is to be taken at his word, then he should step aside, because he did not fulfill his duty, either to Woods or to the tournament.
According to Ridley, a viewer called to say Woods incorrectly dropped his ball after hitting the flagstick and going into the water on the 15th hole.
Ridley said he investigated the claim, deemed that Woods had done nothing wrong, and didn’t even bring up the issue with Woods when he came to sign his scorecard.
It is simply incredulous that anyone who’d looked at the video footage of the offending incident couldn’t see that Woods had dropped the ball at least five or six feet beyond where he’d hit his initial shot.
But Ridley said he saw nothing wrong.
Only when CBS — the network that broadcasts the Masters — called at 10 p.m. ET Friday night to say Woods had, in fact, admitted to inadvertently dropping the ball in the wrong place did Ridley pull his finger out.
He brought Woods in on Saturday morning and determined that he had, in fact, dropped the ball in the wrong spot, then gave him the retrospective two-shot penalty.
He could have given him the death sentence, disqualification, but he couldn’t in good conscience, as he’d given Woods a clean bill of health the day before.
So he fell on his sword.
The perception will be that Woods got preferential treatment, but the history of the Masters suggests that they look after players here, much more so than at other majors.
Other than Roberto De Vicenzo, who was famously denied making a playoff for the 1968 Masters because he signed an incorrect scorecard, Augusta National has given golfers — like Arnold Palmer (twice), Dow Finsterwald, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy — the benefit of considerable doubts on rulings.
But maybe the real issue here is that golf’s penalties already are among the harshest in sports.
Two strokes, in a tight tournament like this, is a steep price to pay.
Just how steep we wouldn’t know until late Sunday afternoon.