On Tuesday morning I saw reports on ESPN and Golf.com that Tiger Woods was to be fined by the PGA Tour for his public criticism of a rules official after winning the Bridgestone Invitational. Then, on Tuesday afternoon I learned that there was no fine for Tiger after all. What’s the deal?
On Sunday afternoon, Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington were locked in a great battle for the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Akron Ohio. Tiger started three shots back but pulled even before making the turn. After a bogey on 15, Padraig held a one stroke lead with three holes to play. Everyone was gearing up for a great three hole battle coming down the stretch. Unbeknown to the fans watching on television, the group was placed on the clock for slow play after hitting their tee shots on 16. What followed was not only tragic, but unnecessary.
Harrington missed the fairway to the right, and in what seemed to me as a hasty decision, he rushed a punch out shot and pulled it left into the rough on the up slope of a fairway bunker, leaving himself a tough shot from 160+ into a pin cut just a few paces over the water. Tiger then hit the 8 iron of the year to 4 inches from 178 yards. Harrington again hurredly played an ill-fated flop shot from the rough behind the green and one hopped it into the water, killing his chances to win the tournament. I’m sure the more astute fans at home were wondering why he hit those shots so fast. I certainly did. He seemed rushed playing his second, third and fourth shots, and it was only the next day that we found out the group had been told they were on the clock.
With Padraig in the drink and Tiger tapping in for birdie, the tournament was effectively over at 16. The next two holes were inconsequential for Tiger and Padraig fought hard just for the second place check. It may not be fair to say PGA Tour rules official John Paramor cost Harrington the victory, but he did play a huge part in ruining what promised to be a dramatic finish. The rule on slow play is clear. Once a group is deemed to be out of position, they are placed on the clock. From that point on, each player has 40 seconds to play a shot from the fairway and 60 seconds to play shots on the green. Any violation of those times means the player will be assessed a stroke penalty and possibly fines.
Woods said he told Harrington after it was over, “I’m sorry that John got in the way of a great battle.” He also criticized the tour for making the call, even though they were clearly falling behind. It was later reported that Tiger was fined for his comments, but today Tiger dispelled the rumor, stating that he was in contact with the PGA Tour and there was no fine. The question remains, if it had been anyone but Tiger, would the fine have been levied? Would the group have been placed on the clock earlier than the 16th hole? Some say that because Tiger made the post round comments that the PGA Tour was scared to hand down punishment. After all, when Tiger talks, people listen. What if Woods had been fined and decided not to pay?
I can understand a group being put on the clock if they are holding up the course and causing delays to the groups behind them. I can even understand that the networks must do their best to get all the golf in before the air time expires. It’s frustrating on a Friday to have the broadcast cut off before your favorite golfer has finished, but it’s obviously not an option when the tournament comes down to the final few holes on Sunday. I’m sure the PGA Tour had that in mind when they put Tiger and Padraig on the clock. Either way, I think the PGA Tour will think twice before putting a group on the clock the next time a marquee pairing is coming down the final holes a few minutes behind the pace.
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