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MORRISSEY: Tiger Woods not necessarily a ‘gentleman’

Tiger Woods US hits shot during first round 77th Masters golf tournament AugustNational Golf Club April 11 2013 AugustGeorgia.

Tiger Woods of the US hits a shot during the first round of the 77th Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2013 in Augusta, Georgia. AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERTDON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

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Updated: May 15, 2013 7:07AM

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Golf is a gentleman’s game. Not my words, but words passed down over the years and held dear by the keepers of the sport.

We’re different, golf says. We’re better, it says. It’s why Masters officials penalized a 14-year-old golfer for slow play Friday, a ridiculously draconian ruling against someone so young. But, fine, they made their ruling and we move on knowing that people in the game are zealous. Honor above everything else, right?

Apparently not. Tiger Woods should have disqualified himself from the tournament for breaking a rule on the 15th hole Friday. That would have been the gentlemanly thing to do. That he didn’t, especially on the course founded by Bobby Jones, the gentleman of gentlemen, is a shame.

Instead, everybody hid behind the kind of legalese you might find in the U.S. tax code. Tournament officials handed him a two-stroke penalty Saturday morning, meaning he entered the third round 1-under par instead of 3-under. He shot 70 on Saturday, putting him four strokes behind co-leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera.

If he happens to win the tournament, an asterisk will follow him around like a bloodhound.

Woods hit a wonderful shot Friday on the par-5 No. 15 — too wonderful, as it turned out. His ball hit the pin and ricocheted left into the water in front of the green. He had three options: One, hit from a designated drop area. Two, drop a ball anywhere back from where the ball entered the water. Three, drop a ball as close as possible to where he originally took his swing.

He chose the third option. Unfortunately, he didn’t follow the rule. He told CBS after the round that he purposely dropped the ball two yards behind the previous spot because he wanted to make sure he didn’t hit the pin again. That’s called damning yourself with your own words.

“In my best judgment, I thought … that Tiger had intended, in fact, to comply in accordance with Rule 26, 1(a),’’ Masters ­competition chairman Fred Ridley said ­Saturday.

Sorry. In golf, ignorance isn’t a defense. It especially isn’t when you’ve signed an incorrect ­scorecard, which is what Tiger did. The scorecard is sacred.

“I wasn’t even really ­thinking,’’ he said Saturday evening of the infraction. “I was still a little ticked at what happened. I was just trying to figure, ‘OK, I need to take some yardage off this shot.’ That’s all I was thinking about. … It was pretty obvious I didn’t drop in the right spot.’’

Masters officials tripped all over themselves to exonerate Woods just enough so he wouldn’t be disqualified. They said they didn’t believe what he did was a penalty at the time of the infraction. And because they didn’t immediately penalize him, they said they never considered disqualifying him when it later became apparent he did break a rule. He said Saturday that he never considered disqualifying himself.

The U.S. Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient instituted a new rule in 2011 that, in essence, protects golfers from TV viewers. Those viewers sometimes can see infractions that the golfer himself might not notice, which is what the Masters said happened in Woods’ case.

It’s a copout. Don’t tell me about new rules and what officials should have done on Friday but didn’t. Rules now are meant to protect pampered players instead of the game.

Tiger knowingly broke the drop rule or was oblivious to it, which is amazing, considering he has been a pro since 1996. Either way, the honorable thing would have been for him to disqualify himself.

What sets golf apart from other sports is that the players call penalties on themselves. There is a long history of it. If you cheat in golf, it can dog you for the rest of your career. Ask Vijay Singh, who was accused of altering his scorecard during the 1985 ­Indonesian Open and has had to listen to whispers ever since.

We don’t know if Woods ­cheated. We do know that he broke a rule. We don’t know if Masters officials were worried about losing their biggest star and suddenly misplaced their honor. We do have our suspicions.

The PGA hands out the Bobby Jones award each year to the golfer who most exemplifies the sportsmanship Jones exhibited during his career. He lost the 1925 U.S. Open by a stroke because he called a penalty on himself when his ball moved while he was ­setting up for a shot.

Now that’s a gentleman.

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