Every April, I get excited and stay up late for four nights watching every second of The Masters golf tournament.
This year, after 74 holes of golf, that ebbed and flowed from downright dull to unbelievably exhilarating, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the rules of golf – not Adam Scott – were the biggest story at Augusta National Golf Club.
No doubt Scott’s coming of age was an uplifting and deserving tale.
The Australian suffered the sort of collapse at The Open at Lytham that would have consigned lesser men to a footnote in history, never again to feature on the Major stage.
His eventual triumph at Augusta, after that epic playoff with the swashbuckling Argentine Angel Cabrera, was hard earned.
I doubt anyone in the golf world would argue he possesses the talent, physical weaponry and swing to go on and become a multiple major champion.
What does linger long after the champagne corks have popped and the green jacket has been returned to Scott’s new Champions locker, is the sense that again we watched a golfer hole the winning putt in a Major using the anchored putting method.
Four of the last six major winners have anchored the putter
Four out of the last six Majors have been won – either with a long putter or belly putter – and in the case of Scott, Els, Simpson and possibly Bradley, it is fair to speculate that without this advantage none of them would have finished top of the leaderboard.
If this had been the 2016 Masters, by which time the anchoring method is proposed to be banned in tournaments governed by the R&A and USGA, then Cabrera would have run out the eventual winner, most likely in a playoff with Jason Day or Tiger Woods.
When putting with the short stick Adam Scott’s career went on the slide as it became obvious his nerves were suffering. The long stick has resurrected his fortunes and in many people’s eyes unfairly so.
Gary Players says nerves are part of the game
Live on TV Gary Player came out and said the long putter should be banned and that holding your nerve was an essential challenge of the game, and one that should not be worked around with the help of physics or equipment changes.
Revealed: the scourge of professional golf
More than the long running lurching debate about belly putters and anchored method this year’s Masters was controversial for two incidents which highlight the scourge of modern professional golf – slow play and the player power of the game’s biggest names.
The 14-year-old Chinese prodigy, Guan TianLang – who has used a belly putter since taking up the game – returned a 72-hole score that was arguably a greater achievement than Scott’s winning total of nine under.
This was news. What overshadowed even this was the one-shot penalty he received for slow play at the end of the second round, almost causing him to miss the cut.
According to all reports he was slow, very slow. Yet, he was playing at The Masters for the first time, surrounded by swirling winds and huge galleries.
77 Masters – 1 penalty for slow play
It was the first time in 77 Masters that a player has been singled out for a slow play penalty, and it happened to be a 14-year-old boy on the end of it.
How many times in the past have we seen greats, like Nick Faldo, agonise over the second shot to the 13th, over Rae’s Creek, and flit between 2-iron and 5-wood – taking far longer than the allotted 50 seconds.
I’d like to know who it was that decided to penalise the young man and almost burst the bubble of one of the biggest feel-good stories in Masters history.
Like a scene from a boarding school
European Tour referee John Paramor was the man who delivered the bad news and it had the look of a cruel housemaster punishing the schoolboy for putting his exam answer in the wrong place on the paper.
Rules are Rules – Tiger
“Rules are rules,” world number one Tiger Woods said when asked to comment on the incident. Then just one day later, just as Woods looked to be closing in on his fifth green jacket, rules suddenly didn’t become rules.
He hit a perfect wedge at the 15th, hit the flag and watched as the ball ricocheted back into the water. He dismissed a “grainy, wet” drop zone and headed back to play from somewhere near the original spot he hit from.
Except, he took a couple of extra yards, who knows but maybe to get a flatter lie and take a little speed off the swing.
As we all know, this is against the rules, and he should have dropped as close as possible to the spot he originally played from.
It was his own admission in his press conference that sparked a huge controversy and threw the rule enforcers at Augusta into overdrive.
He had already signed his scorecard when it transpired he should have had a two-shot penalty.
Trial by TV
Traditionally that would have meant disqualification for signing for a wrong score – except a new rule has been introduced lately to stop golf professionals being disqualified retrospectively following trial by TV viewer.
So, rather than disqualify Tiger Woods, the Masters committee kept him in the tournament and judged a two-shot penalty on the world number one.
People cried loudly for him to disqualify himself, in the spirit of the game, like Bobby Jones did all those years ago when he called a penalty on himself for moving the ball at the 1925 US Open at Worcester Country Club.
Then again, what was Tiger to do?
Embarrass the Masters committee by withdrawing and make a mockery of the rule changes, or stick it out and face the ire of the golf fraternity and his fellow pros?
It’s not the first time he’s done that, so he stuck it out and played well, finishing 4th.
I even felt sympathy for him, his wedge at 15 on Saturday was perfect and ill fate threw up this strange rules controversy.
The spirit of golf verdict
If we looked on the 2013 Masters with a traditional purist’s eye, Cabrera would have won, Tiger flown home to Orlando to nurse his wounds and the young Chinese golfer would have shown the same fortitude he did to collect the Amateur medal.
I suppose ultimately nobody said life was fair, the least we can do is make golf as fair as possible.
Adam Scott didn’t break the rules but the sooner the long putter debate is over and a level playing field embraced, the better the sport will be for it.
Until then, the spirit of golf was overruled at Augusta, by the need to win and the need to satisfy patrons who wouldn’t accept paying $250 per day for tickets to miss out on seeing the Tiger stalk the fairways.
What do you think? Comment below and share this article if you think golf was over-ruled at The Masters?