What was it Enzo Bearzot said about coaching Italy: "I'd rather be a lucky manager than a good one"? Tiger Woods might concur because a lot of things had to go right to save him from the red card that was coming his way for signing for a wrong score over the weekend here after his illegal drop. Perhaps he deserved a break after watching his ball rebound off the pin into Rae's Creek at the 15th while leading the tournament. Or maybe not, according to the letter of the law.
In order to get that break a magnificent seven ducks had to fall in a row:
1 He needed an individual to be watching television who not only enjoyed the game of golf but who was familiar with the rules and was savvy enough to pick up something on the screen that none of the experts in the studio, some of whom have won a major or two themselves, spotted in real time.
2 He needed that same person to have the presence of mind and inclination to want to get out of their armchair and search for a number to ring in order to let Augusta National know what he or she had spotted. Don't forget, this was happening outside of office hours. Do you ring the television broadcaster or Augusta? And who is sitting around waiting for the phone to ring? As Bubba Watson cheekily asked, what number do you ring? And remember, they don't allow mobiles around here.
3 Woods also needed this armchair vigilante to have got through quickly on the out-of-hours number. Woods is fortunate the tournament was not in Europe – his guardian angel might have been put through to a call centre in India or at best forced to listen through a pre-recorded options list… "Press Five to report a questionable drop."
4 Once connection was made the telephonist at Augusta had to know to whom he or she had to speak in this kind of emergency. This tournament is not a daily occurrence.
5 Following the successful passing-on of the viewer's information up the chain of command it had to reach the competitions committee. Maybe it is like rules central in there. According to the committee chairman, Fred Ridley, a lot of calls come in during this event, raising all manner of issues, and each one is checked out.
6 Once convened the committee had to access the footage from the television company and scrutinise the issue. One assumes there was much to discuss. The members were looking blind. They did not at that point know Tiger's rationale that came out in his post-round interview, in which he incriminated himself by admitting he broke the rules of golf with his illegal drop, so they would have had to determine whether he was dropping from the same spot, or along the line of entry into the water. They concluded it was from the same spot governed by rule 27 1a.
7 All of the above needed to fall into line and in short order before Tiger had completed his round to enable the committee to invoke the discretionary rule 33.7 and reach the decision that Tiger had not deliberately broken the rules and therefore they were satisfied that he could sign for his score. Woods would have been at least on his way to the par-three 16th, if not playing the hole, before this chain of events kicked in. It is not a long hole. If fate had 45 minutes to go from phone call to the committee ruling, that is generous. It was probably less time, demonstrating a remarkable efficacy from viewer, telephonist and the men in green blazers.
That the committee was mistaken in finding no wrongdoing by Woods saved him, because the mistake became the committee's, not the player's, that he signed for a wrong score. The committee could have informed him while he was on the course before he signed his card. Of course, no one knew at the time that the committee had been convened. This only emerged retrospectively when Woods' own testimony alerted studio experts that a rule breach had been committed.
Woods should have disqualified himself. The discretionary rule was introduced two years ago to protect golfers from retrospective rulings brought about by television scrutiny. It was known as the "Harrington Rule" since it was Padraig's misfortune to be caught on TV causing his ball to move. The cameras picked up what was imperceptible to the naked eye. Harrington estimated his ball must have rolled three dimples forward and one and a half back. He could not have known this but the super slo-mo camera revealed all and a penalty was retrospectively imposed after he had signed for his card. He was gone by disqualification.
The "Harrington Rule" allows for committees to waive disqualification only when a golfer could not have known a mistake was being committed. Ignorance is no defence. It is the responsibility of Woods to know the rules but the committee shifted the argument away from his ignorance to its own mistake and he was free and clear. Very lucky indeed.