Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee says he insinuated that Tiger Woods cheated and gave the world's No. 1 player an "F" for his five-win season in a column he wrote for Golf.com because "ethics matter more than athletics."
Chamblee saved Woods for last in his report card of 14 players in a column posted last week. He told of being caught cheating on a math test in the fourth grade, and how the teacher crossed a line through his "100" and gave him an "F."
Chamblee followed that anecdote by writing: "I remember when we only talked about Tiger's golf. I miss those days. He won five times and contended in majors and won the Vardon Trophy and ... how shall we say this ... was a little cavalier with the rules." He then gave Woods a "100" with a line through it, followed by the "F."
Mark Steinberg of Excel Sports Management, the agent for Woods, was so incensed that he released a statement to ESPN.com that accused Chamblee of a desperate attempt to garner attention. In an interview with ESPN.com, Steinberg said he would "have to give some thought to legal action."
Steinberg did not reply to an email from The Associated Press.
No other golfer evokes such a mixture of praise and criticism as Woods, the main attraction of any sport for nearly 20 years. Chamblee's column struck a nerve with many, however, because of the implication that three rules violations and a penalty drop involving Woods amounted to cheating -- the strongest accusation possible in golf.
Woods accepted a two-shot penalty in Abu Dhabi for taking relief from an embedded ball in a sandy area covered with vegetation. Augusta National gave him a two-shot penalty for taking the wrong drop in the second round of the Masters. And the PGA Tour gave him a two-shot penalty after his second round of the BMW Championship when video evidence showed that his ball moved slightly from behind the first green.
Also in question -- at least on the Internet -- was the drop Woods took on the 14th hole at TPC Sawgrass during the final round of The Players Championship. Woods checked with playing partner Casey Wittenberg on where to take the penalty drop, which is standard procedure. Wittenberg said it was the correct spot.
Chamblee never says outright he thinks Woods cheated. That was by design.
"I think 'cavalier with the rules' allows for those with a dubious opinion of the BMW video," Chamblee said Tuesday in an email to the AP. "My teacher in the fourth grade did not have a dubious opinion of how I completed the test. But she was writing to one, and as I was writing to many, I felt it important to allow for the doubt some might have, so I chose my words accordingly.
"What people want to infer about that is up to them," he said. "I have my opinion, they can form theirs."
Video shows Woods' ball move as he tried to remove a small branch from in front of it at the BMW Championship. He maintained it only wobbled and returned to its original position. Woods watched the video in the rules trailer after the round, but still maintained it only oscillated. The tour docked him two shots.
"I don't feel I'm the one that needs to justify the 'F.' The BMW video does it for me, followed by Tiger's silence -- until confronted -- and then by his denials in the face of incontestable evidence to the contrary of his petitions," Chamblee said. "To say nothing of the fact that he was disrespecting his position in golf, the traditions of golf and his fellow competitors, in my opinion."
Chamblee, who has developed a reputation of being critical of Woods' swing and golf game, is a contributor to "SI Golf Plus," which is not affiliated with Golf Channel.
Golf Channel declined to comment.
"I suspected there would be the usual assortment of divisive banter about me giving Tiger an 'F,' but as it turns out, it was a slow week in golf, so with not much to do, my column got more attention than it should have," Chamblee said.
He was most surprised by Steinberg's comments to ESPN.com.
Woods' longtime agent told the website: "There's nothing you can call a golfer worse than a cheater. This is the most deplorable thing I have seen. I'm not one for hyperbole, but this is absolutely disgusting. Calling him a cheater? I'll be shocked, stunned, if something is not done about this. Something has to be done. There are certainly things that just don't go without response. It's atrocious. I'm not sure if there isn't legal action to be taken. I have to give some thought to legal action."
Asked if he was rattled by Steinberg's consideration of legal action, Chamblee replied, "No."
"I thought it incomprehensible that anyone with the slightest understanding of libel laws wouldn't know the definition of and the difference between libel and opinion," Chamblee said.
Woods was voted PGA Tour Player of the Year by his peers for the 11th time. He is not expected to play again until a European Tour event Nov. 7-10 in Turkey, followed by his Northwestern Mutual World Challenge on Dec. 5-8 in California.
Chamblee said he did not consider whether the column would jeopardize -- or enhance -- his position at Golf Channel.
"I'm paid to have and give an opinion, and I work hard to form those opinions based upon facts, not agenda," he said. "I don't always get it right but I'm always trying to get it right. And I know the people I work for know that."