Masters Notebook, Part I

Due to the horrific events this past Monday at the Boston Marathon, it’s timely to cite and to applaud the tight security measures at the Masters, widely regarded as the best and most well-organized sporting event on the planet (sorry, hyperbole hawks). With every badge numbered and hence traceable, patrons must enter the event and pass through metal detectors. They are not allowed “cell phones, beepers and other electronic devices.” There’s a long and well-published list of other prohibited items including “bags, backpacks, purses, packages.” All badges are scanned upon entrance and if patrons wish to leave the tournament and then return, the badge must be again scanned. (Security experts call this an ‘anti-passback measure.’) Enforcing these safety and security issues is an army of security personnel: including private Securitas staffing; local, county and state police; and the FBI. In view of what happened on Monday, “the toughest ticket in sport” just got tougher—thank goodness for that.

Before Adam Scott’s dazzling victory in a light drizzle on an overcast day, the Masters itself was somewhat beclouded and beset by two stormy rules decisions: The one-shot penalty for slow play placed on the sensational 14-year-old eighth grader Tianlang Guan from China; and the two-shot penalty for an improper drop—but not disqualification for signing an incorrect scorecard—on Tiger Woods. Both decisions caused much second-guessing and even consternation among players and observers alike. In the former, Guan showed remarkable poise and precocious class in accepting the penalty—”I respect the decision”—that almost cost him a place in Masters history as the youngest player to make the cut. In my opinion, it was the right decision, albeit an unfortunate one, given the fact Guan was warned several times and placed on the clock, therefore setting the fuse on a possible penalty. Rules official John Paramour, the chief rules honcho for the European Tour, was just doing his job in spite of the fact that the average threesome pace of play on Friday took 5 hours, 20 minutes.

The latter case with Tiger Woods gravitated toward a testy Rulesgate inquiry—what did Woods and the Masters Competition Committee know and when did they know it? One camp wanted the Masters to DQ Tiger—or better yet for Tiger to voluntarily withdraw from the event—after he inadvertently implicated himself for the infraction in a post-round ESPN interview. Another camp defended just a two-shot penalty on Woods because of a disdain for the oversized influence of armchair rules experts watching on television and because the Masters rules officials didn’t speak to Woods immediately following his round and before he signed his scorecard. If someone had intervened at that point, Tiger would have incurred the two-shot penalty on Friday and avoided the clamor for a DQ and with it allegations of media ratings and player favoritism driving rules decisions. So the “Committee” took the fall in this case and not Woods. At a press conference on Saturday morning, Augusta National member and Masters Competition Committee chair Fred Ridley said: “Let’s face it, the committees make mistakes from time to time, and the players are entitled to rely on what a Committee does….We had made a decision before he (Woods) finished his round and I think he’s entitled to be protected by (Rule) 33-7, and that’s our decision, and others agree with us.”

The said Committee consisted of former US Amateur champion Ridley, Jim Reinhart, member and former chairman of the USGA, and Mark Russell, V-P of Competitions for the PGA TOUR. As such, I defer and trust their expertise, thoroughness and final judgement on the ruling. “Rules are rules”—and that also includes accepting a final Committee decision. That being said, don’t be surprised to see a walking rules official in each and every group next year at the Masters. Likewise, don’t be surprised about the pace of play next year for the second round being 5 hours, 30 minutes!

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