Tiger Woods did not trigger USGA's new ‘naked eye’ decision

Andy Lyons

Tiger Woods’ controversial ball-‘oscillating’ penalty at the BMW Championship had nothing to do with the USGA’s new decision regarding the use of video technology.

Tiger Woods’ ball-moving penalty at the BMW Championship, despite what many observers may believe, did not instigate the new ‘naked eye’ decision that the USGA and R&A handed down earlier this week.

"Contrary to what some think, the whole thing was already written and essentially put to bed long before Tiger's issue ever came up. It's been in the works since before I became executive director in 2010," USGA chief Mike Davis told Jaime Diaz in a Golf Digest interview posted on Thursday.

If anything, Davis claimed, the September incident in which Woods incurred a penalty when video showed his ball shifting as he removed a stick, confused the issue since the so-called "Tiger Rule" had nothing to do with the governors' Decision 18/4 implementation.

The new edict, to take effect Jan. 1, 2014, mandates that players will forfeit no strokes if the only way to determine that they caused their balls to move is not "reasonably discernible to the naked eye." While the new ruling could have forestalled the ruckus that ensued after Woods insisted his ball simply "oscillated," Davis asserted it was not a cause-and-effect situation.

"Truth be known, when the Tiger thing happened, everybody involved on both sides of the pond, said ‘Oh man, talk about bad timing,’" Davis said. "This had been done long before the Tiger incident."

Davis also noted that, though some have interpreted the decision as an anti-viewer call-in move, that’s not what the rules-makers intended, and, indeed, it could well have the opposite impact.

"We still firmly believe that you need to use all the information possible to make the rulings in stroke play," Davis said. "Our notion has never been to say, ‘We hate these armchair rules officials that call in.’

"If a player doesn't know the rule and no one sees him breach a rule, by not allowing call-ins it's almost like we are incentivizing payers not to know the rules," averred Davis, who sought to explain the "subtle difference" between officials wanting all the information they can get and trying to eliminate data culled from advanced video technology.

"We expect a player if he breaches a rule, to call that penalty on himself. If he doesn't know it, and someone else who sees the breach does -- say a spectator or a competitor's caddie or someone watching television -- in that situation we want whoever sees it to call it," Davis said.

The bottom line, as with all sports in which referees and umpires blow the whistles, throw the flags, or confer with players, a situation like Tiger’s at the BMW will come down to a judgment call.

"In Tiger's case, what a rules committee would ultimately have to do is say, ‘Okay, did Tiger see that with his naked eye. Was it possible or probable?’ Sometimes you may just need to take all the evidence involved," Davis said.

A situation like Tiger’s at the BMW will come down to a judgment call.

If Woods’ every action were not televised (perhaps in Bizarro Jerry World) and it were his word against that of an armchair ref, advantage Tiger. If Woods had waffled about whether the ball moved or didn’t, and officials went to the video for confirmation, Davis said it would still be "one person against another," and the benefit of the doubt would still go to Woods.

Without televised evidence and if, say, a dozen witnesses stacked up against the golfer involved, tough luck, Tiger. In that instance, "there would be too much weight saying the ball moved," Davis said, "and the ruling would go against the player."

In one more what-if scenario, a competitor who willfully, and in a way that’s "crystal clear" to the naked eye, causes the ball to move and denies that it did, sorry, Bucko.

"If the player is looking down at that ball, and the ball moves enough where you go, ‘Wait a minute, there's no way he or she didn't see that,’" Davis said, "believe me, that player will get the penalty then."

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