Golf to see new rule interpretations

A new decision to the Rules of Golf that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014, very likely would have spared Tiger Woods a two-shot penalty at the BMW Championship in September -- and perhaps a good bit of the fallout that ensued concerning his rules issues in 2013.

But it stops short of limiting the time frame in which various infractions can be brought to the attention of rules officials, which can lead to disqualification due to an incorrect scorecard.

The United States Golf Association and R&A -- the game's rules-making bodies -- announced Tuesday some 87 changes or additions to its decisions, the most prominent of which is new Decision 18/4, which addresses the use of high-definition or slow-motion video to detect whether a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location.

"The ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time,'' according to the new decision.

During the second round of the BMW Championship in September, Woods was deemed to have caused his ball to move when he removed a loose impediment behind the first green.

A possible violation was only detected due to a video crew that required slow motion and high definition to show the ball barely moved. Woods maintained the ball "oscillated'' and did not change positions; PGA Tour rules official Slugger White disagreed and Woods was assessed a two-stroke penalty.

According to a joint USGA/R&A release: "The Decision ensures that a player is not penalized under Rule 18-2 in circumstances where the fact that the ball had changed location could not reasonably have been seen without the use of enhanced technology.''

Woods was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but the PGA Tour did weigh in.

"The PGA Tour is pleased that the USGA and R&A continue to focus on the important issue of the effect of television evidence on the Rules of Golf, and we continue to work on additional projects with the governing bodies in this area," PGA Tour executive vice president Ty Votaw said in a statement.

Asked specifically about the Woods situation, Thomas Pagel, the USGA's senior director of rules, said in an email: "If a situation similar to the one involving Tiger at the BMW Championship were to occur after Jan. 1, 2014, the additional considerations for committees that are outlined in new Decision 18/4 would be used in determining a ruling.

"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.''

Given the circumstances, however, it is reasonable to assume that Woods would have escaped without a penalty. He maintained afterward that "I felt like nothing happened; I felt like the ball oscillated and that was it.'' Only on video was it apparent the ball had moved.

In the aftermath of the BMW decision, Woods' four high-profile rules issues in 2013 came under scrutiny. Three times this year he suffered two-stroke penalties; another time at the Players Championship, Woods' drop after hitting his ball into a hazard was questioned, despite getting guidance from a playing partner.

Both Woods and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem had expressed a desire to see some sort of time limit placed on rules violations called in by spectators.

"There needs to be a discussion, obviously, where is that time limit?" Woods said at the Tour Championship. "Where is that line of demarcation? You've got to start with disqualification and then work our way back from there.

"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of discussion over it. What's going to happen over the course of time, is every player is going to be mandated to have a camera follow them around everywhere they go, all 156 players [in a regular tour event] for every shot? Or is there a certain time limit when we're going to have to do it? Is it going to change in the digital age? These are all questions and answers that need to be resolved in the near future.''

For now, the rules-making bodies are not going beyond the "naked eye" test as it relates to video and called-in violations.

"In many other sports, there are good and understandable reasons for imposing a strict time limit on the review and correction of rules decisions,'' the USGA and R&A said in a statement. "In golf, however, even at the elite level, players often apply the rules to themselves without the assistance of a referee and, in stroke play, are responsible for the correctness of the score recorded for each hole. Moreover, competitions are often played over more than one day and, in stroke play, the outcome typically is based on total score, making it possible to correct errors significantly after the fact and, indeed, at any time before the competition is closed by virtue of the result being officially announced.

"For these reasons, disregarding relevant evidence of a breach of the rules obtained before the competition has ended, could lead to uncertainty and to 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. If a player has breached a rule, but this is not discovered until a later time, whether through video evidence or otherwise, such evidence must be considered so that the correct ruling can be applied and the player's score can be recorded accurately.''

Among the changes for 2014-15, the USGA/R&A deemed three other decisions particularly noteworthy:

• New Decision 14-3/18 confirms that players can access reports on weather conditions on a smartphone during a round without breaching the rules. Importantly, this decision also clarifies that players are permitted to access information on the threat of an impending storm in order to protect their safety.

• Revised Decision 25-2/0.5 helps to clarify when a ball is considered to be embedded in the ground through the use of illustrations.

• Revised Decision 27-2a/1.5 allows a player to go forward up to approximately 50 yards without forfeiting his or her right to go back and play a provisional ball.