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New USGA decision, golf rules exonerate Tiger Woods

The USGA and R&A on Tuesday handed down a slew of decisions involving the use of high-def and slow-mo videos in governing the game of golf.

Andrew Redington

Warm up those texting fingers, armchair refs -- the USGA and R&A are poised to let you contact PGA, LPGA, European, and all other tour officials early and often whenever you see Tiger Woods and every other high-profile player on camera 24x7 violating any and all rules of golf.

Golf's governing bodies also plan to deploy a new rule that, had it been in place during the whole "oscillation" controversy at the 2013 BMW Championship, could have saved Woods from another two-shot penalty and everyone else from the fracas the incident instigated.

The game's rules-makers announced on Tuesday 87 changes and clarifications to the Rules of Golf, the most noteworthy being Decision 18/4, which discusses the use of video in determining if a ball has changed position.

"The ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time,'' reads the new decision, which would seem to let Woods out of Brandel Chamblee’s doghouse after the "oscillation" uproar that occurred during the BMW Championship.

Woods notoriously incurred another in a series of two-shot penalties during the second round of the FedExCup playoff when he moved a stick near his ball and a high-definition video, reviewed in slow motion, showed that the ball changed position. Woods denied his ball moved and received the penalty when he did not return it to its original spot.

The USGA/R&A changes go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, too late to mitigate the uproar over Woods’ penalty.

"If a situation similar to the one involving Tiger at the BMW Championship were to occur after January 1, 2014, the additional considerations for committees that are outlined in new Decision 18/4 would be used in determining a ruling," Thomas Pagel, the USGA's senior director of rules, told ESPN.com's Bob Harig. "As to whether these new considerations would have changed the ruling that was made at the BMW Championship, our answer is that it is difficult to speculate on what the outcome of the ruling would have been because the only issue addressed by the committee at the time was whether the ball had moved.''

On the flip side for Tiger, the only player whose every breath, twitch, and ball drop is recorded for posterity, is the overseers’ expected determination that every Tom, Dick, and Dave with a TV remote and a smart phone should text, e-mail, call, or otherwise alert officials to wrongdoing by the world No. 1 and all other golfers unlucky enough to be on camera.

"A committee should consider all evidence, regardless of the source, that may be relevant in determining the facts to which the rules must be applied," according to the USGA statement, which noted the USGA and R&A would decide as part of their 2016 rules review, the potential impact of video technology on the game’s edicts.

"To reach a correct ruling, all evidence from witnesses concerning a possible breach of the rules should be considered, whether those witnesses are participants in the competition, non-participants such as spectators, or persons who have reviewed television footage and the like."

Unlike all other sports, which rightly ignore the indignant outrage of those in the peanut gallery with rooting interests (Really, ref? Watch Gronk get manhandled in the end zone on the final play of the game, throw a flag, and then say, "oops, never mind"?!), golf will likely officially encourage outside influences to play defining roles in overseeing the game.

Ignoring such "relevant evidence of a breach" could trigger "unhealthy debate and disagreement about the fairness of a result that was influenced by an incorrect set of facts and failure to apply the rules properly."

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