Tiger's Double-hit Push Shot Leaves a Bad Taste in the Mouth
AND so, just as we suspected all along, there is one set of rule for the likes of Tiger Woods and another set for the rest of us. Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Woods and that I have loved every minute of his sensational 2018 comeback, but what he did on the 17th hole during the second to round of the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas simply defied belief.
Having spent ages sizing up what to do about a golf ball that was firmly embedded in the rubbish beneath a bush, Woods chose not to take the sensible and obvious solution - namely to lift the ball from the bush under a penalty of one stroke, which would still have given him the chance of finding the green with his third and making an unlikely par. Instead, he got down on his knees and played what can only be described as a push shot, similar to that used by hockey players. Whether or not he made contact with the ball once, twice or three times is immaterial - he employed a stroke that was illegal. Full stop. Period. As I watched it in real time I could scarcely believe my eyes. When I watched it in slow motion the only question in my mind was how on earth they were going to penalise him.
Due to some farcical new rule, Woods escaped penalty because he claimed not to have been aware of hitting the ball twice. Sorry? So does this now mean that when we stand on a green with a tricky three-foot putt that each and every one of us is now able to effectively use our putter to push the golf ball into the hole, rather than using a conventional stoke? Some years ago, Sam Snead, one of the best swingers of a golf club the game has ever seen, decided to adopt a side-saddle putting stroke when he was afflicted with the dreaded yips. It was quickly outlawed because the powers that be rightly decided that it gave him an unfair advantage as it would allow him to keep the putter head in contact with the ball for longer than would happen with a conventional stroke.
Unsurprisingly, Woods’ actions in the Bahamas sparked a furious debate on social media, all the more so when the rules officials spoke to him, accepted his word that he did not realise he had hit the ball twice and decided not to penalise him. It was a tricky moment - this was his own tournament after all, and how on earth do you disqualify the host from his own event if he looks you in the eye and tells you that he did not realise there had been a double hit?
Anybody who has ever played cricket - at whatever level - will tell you that they know when bat has made contact with ball, no matter how slight the contact. Sadly, in the professional game, it seems that it is no longer “cricket’ for a batsman to walk unless he is given out by the umpire. Increasingly we have to go through the motions of waiting for the third umpire to call upon technology to prove to everybody what we already knew - that the ball feathered the bat on its way through to the wicketkeeper. And let’s not get started on simulation in football, when players crash to the ground holding various parts of their body even though there has been no contact whatsoever by the opposing player. Referees are often fooled. Penalties are given, Players are sent off. It is cheating. Plain and simple.
Snooker players frequently hold their hands up to double-hits, to push shots and to accidentally making contact with the cue ball when addressing a shot. Like golfers, they just know when something isn’t right.
Unfortunately, Woods has form when it comes to bending the rules. At The Masters in 2013 he came to the par-five 15th hole and hit a glorious third shot which would have been stone dead had it not struck the flag and rebounded into the creek in front of the green. A clearly furious Woods was forced to drop his ball under penalty and try again. The problem was that he quite clearly dropped the ball in the wrong place, and later admitted that he had done so. By the time of his admission, he had already signed and submitted his scorecard. He should have been disqualified. Instead, the Masters committee met in secret session the following day and decided to simply penalise him two shots. Do you honestly believe the same outcome would have befallen a run-of-the-mill tour player? Of course it wouldn’t.
And then there was the time early in his career when he hit a drive into the desert at the 1999 Phoenix Open. When he got to his ball he discovered a giant boulder in the way. Woods promptly declared it a loose impediment. Now the thing with a loose impediment is that it should be a pebble or a leaf that can be removed without any physical effort. But in this instance Woods summoned several members of the gallery to move the thing and then proceeded to play his recovery shot unimpeded. Nothing was said. No penalty was imposed.
There was also an incident at the 2013 BMW Championship when he hit his drive way right into the undergrowth. After reaching his ball, Woods started doing some “gardening”, unaware that a camera was following his every move. As he attempted to move a twig, his ball clearly moved. Woods immediately stopped what he was doing, walked over to his caddie, selected a club and played his recovery shot. It seemed pretty obvious to everybody who was watching that Woods had caused the ball to move and that he knew it. When approached by rules officials, who had been alerted by TV viewers, he said that he had not been aware that he had caused the ball to move but this time he received a two-shot penalty.
He is the greatest golfer of his generation and it has been wonderful to see him battle back and contend in majors once again. His victory at the Tour Championship at East Lake was the comeback story of the year. But here’s the thing. Winning is NOT everything Tiger. How you lose, how you accept the bad breaks is fare more important and may just be what you are actually remembered for.
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