With regard to the controversy over the penalty on Tiger Woods (rather than his forced disqualification): I concur entirely with the decision of The Masters to assess the two-stroke penalty. It was exactly the right decision, as per the new rule adopted two years ago encouraging discretion in circumstances almost perfectly descriptive of Woods’ situation. And, apart from the letter of the law, Woods’ four-foot difference in drop area was almost entirely immaterial to the outcome of his next shot.
That said, I think Woods should withdraw from the tournament.
If Woods wins today, there will always be an aserisk, whether literal or mental/figurative, next to this particular victory and, more important, to his entire quest to overcome Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major professional championships. What if Woods ends up tied with Jack, after banking this victory? What if he ends up with 19? Such a record, so sacred in golf, should not carry with it any doubts.
Moreover, Woods has played an entire career so far without any significant “grace notes” (apart, perhaps, from his hug with his father after his first Masters title) — no particular marks for graciousness, no identifiable sign of sportsmanship above and beyond. Instead, he has always been the guy who never quite said the right words, in the right tone of voice, whether winning or losing close tournaments — almost never properly crediting his opponent and deflecting positive attention to the opponent, rather than making it all about himself. And Tiger has always been the guy who took advantage of every rule in a way that sometimes rankled, as when securing a number of spectators to lift a huge boulder out of the path of his intended ball flight.
Nicklaus’ career was full of grace notes. Ben Crenshaw’s was full of them. Tom Watson was a man of great integrity (and also quietly but firmly resigned from his beloved home country club, unbidden by any public pressure, because it refursed to admit Jews). And Bobby Jones famously called a crucial penalty on himself even though nobody else saw the infraction. (I saw Crenshaw do the same thing on himself, with my own eyes, with me standing just feet for him and yet me not seeing his ball move a fraction, in New Orleans in the 1970s.) But Tiger? Nothing identifiable.
Surely, if he withdrew now, to avoid creating an “asterisk situation,” he would reverse a lot of the bad karma created by his scandal several years ago and from his history of curtness with reporters and, more importantly, with too many fans.
But if he plays on and wins, he’ll go through the rest of his career with half of the public thinking he cheated to win. As I said above, I don’t think that would be a fair accusation — but it will indeed be the perception, and it would be a perception well rooted in the history of golf until the oh-so-recent rules change.
Do the right thing, Tiger. Put the good of the game above your own ambition. Please withdraw.