A ball is considered to only oscillate when it may move, but returns to its original position. A player is not penalized when this happens. This might sometimes be hard to determine with the naked eye, but not with some of today’s sophisticated video equipment.
In the BMW Championship, Tiger Woods ran into another rules problem when he was removing a small twig near his ball behind the first green in the second round. His ball moved slightly, but he thought it only oscillated or maybe hoped that is what happened.
However, a PGA Tour videographer caught the moment without knowing what it showed at the time, but later he or an alert editor back at PGA Tour headquarters detected the ball moving and made a call to alert the rules officials.
Slugger White, vice president of rules and competitions for the PGA Tour, took one look and came to conclusion that it was clear to him that the ball moved down—not more than half a dimple—after Woods moved a nearby twig. In such a case, the official’s job is to protect the field and so Woods was penalized two strokes, changing a double bogey six into an eight.
Looking at the video myself, it’s obvious the ball moved, but even after seeing the video himself several times, Woods still was sticking with his story in the scoring trailer that he thought the ball only oscillated. This might have worked in his favor if it had involved the word of another player or a fan or even a rules official, but not with the close-up image on the video.
Woods definitely didn’t follow the unwritten rule where a player takes a penalty to erase any doubt of impropriety even if he or she was the only one who might have seen the ball move or in some cases even when the ball might have only oscillated. By continuing to deny that the ball moved even the next day when he talked with the media, Woods hurt his good name in my opinion. Remember, he already had been penalized two strokes for improper drops at the Masters and in Abu Dhabi when he didn’t know the rules.
Woods definitely should have known it was risky to try and move anything in the woods. Even if he thought the ball just oscillated, he should have called a rules official over, especially when he stopped what he was doing after seeing the ball do something and had to be aware there was a video camera nearby.
What would have happened if this had occurred later in the round and wasn’t discovered until after Woods had signed his scorecard? Would Woods have been disqualified? Well, Decision 33-7/4.5 now says a DQ penalty can be modified if a player was unaware of penalty until it became known through a video replay.
It should be noted that Woods plays under more scrutiny than any other professional, but he has also been helped by a video replay in the past when it showed an errant drive at rest. The ball, however, was not there when Woods arrived, evidently being picked up by a fan. Woods got to substitute another ball and take a free drop just as he should have.
It’s my personal feeling that the two-stroke penalty for a ball moving may be a little too severe. Why not one-stroke unless it is a flagrant violation where a player gained an advantage doing it, moving the ball out of trouble from an unplayable lie?