PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Tiger Woods has faced more scrutiny that any other golfer from his generation. Maybe ever.
Just not this variety.
Woods must long for the days when the golf world obsessed over his swing changes and questioned his coaches. He was criticized for not playing enough tournaments and not giving the events he did play enough notice that he was coming.
Most of it was petty. But this is different. Now it’s his integrity on the course that’s being questioned.
Woods won The Players Championship on Sunday for his fourth victory this year. Making it even more memorable, he ended his spat with Sergio Garcia by posing with the crystal trophy. They were tied with two holes to play, and Garcia hit three shots in the water.
That all seems like B-material compared with the buzz over the drop Woods took on the 14th hole of the final round.
He hit what he called a “pop-up hook” with a 3-wood from the tee, and the ball landed in the water left of the fairway. Consulting with playing partner Casey Wittenberg, he dropped it some 255 yards short of the green. Woods then hit a shot short of the green, pitched on and missed a 6-foot putt to take double bogey.
The Internet has been alive with video showing the ball’s flight on the 14th, and theories how the ball could possibly have crossed land where Woods took his drop.
The chatter won’t stop, even though there is nowhere to go with it. Consider this statement put out by Mark Russell, the tour’s vice president of competition: “Without definitive evidence, the point where Woods’ ball last crossed the lateral water hazard is determined through best judgment by Woods and his fellow competitor,” it read.
Woods conferred with Wittenberg.
“I told him exactly where I thought it crossed, and we all agreed. So he’s definitely great on that,” Wittenberg said.
Then there was that Saturday incident with Garcia which was one case where Woods shared some responsibility.
The scene on the par-5 second hole was chaotic. Woods was so deep in the trees that it appeared it was his turn to hit. Garcia stood over his second shot for the longest time. There was a burst of cheers when Woods pulled out his 5-wood. Garcia finished his swing and looked over at the crowd, clearly frustrated.
Garcia suggested in a TV interview that Woods pulled the club at just the right time to fire up the crowd and disrupt his swing. Woods said in a TV interview, “The marshals, they told me he already hit, so I pulled a club and was getting ready to play my shot.”
Sports Illustrated talked to the chief marshal for that section of the course, John North.
“Nothing was said to us and we certainly said nothing to him,” North said. “I was disappointed to hear him make those remarks.”
Lost in this mess is that Woods is playing golf at a very high level.
But it sure is a bumpy ride at the moment.