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Before Victory by Aussie, Rules Ruled 2013 Masters Like Other Tournaments Before

By: Marino Parascenzo


[Editor's Note: Hall of Fame golf writer Marino Parascenzo was at Augusta National Golf Club this week to cover the Masters for Cybergolf. Here's his final installment.]

It's not too much of a reach to see a similarity between particle physics and the Rules of Golf, especially if you've brushed up against the Rules of Golf at the Masters.

In physics, they thought atoms were the smallest things. Then came electrons and protons. And when they thought they had a grip on them, they think they found neutrinos. And after them, the Higgs boson. There's always something.

Rules flaps can hit any tournament, but at the Masters, they are bigger, brighter and generally odder than anywhere else. It must be the gravitational pull in the Georgia hills.

We had not one, but two major flaps in this 2013 Masters.

First, there was the Chinese kid, Tianlang Guan, age 14, youngest ever to play in the Masters, getting penalized for slow play. And the world rose up in righteous indignation. He's only a kid, for crying out loud. How can you penalize a kid?

Kid? What kid?

Freddie Couples is 53. Tiger Woods is 37. Tianlang Guan is 14. Kid? He's no kid. He's a contestant in the Masters. And the rules are the rules. In Little League Baseball, they still have to touch all four bases.

Then, of course, Woods and the curious case of not so much did-he-or-didn't-he?, as what-did-he-do-or-didn't-do? Well, he gets knocked off for two shots for taking a drop in the wrong place, then signs an incorrect scorecard - the leading cause of competitive death on the PGA Tour - but he doesn't get disqualified. It was only fair.

OK, then should he have done the noble thing and withdrawn "for the good of the game," etc.? Well, yes. But that would take a huge amount of nobility.

Until the Case of Tiger Woods and the Discombobulated Rules, the unquestioned champion of all flaps was Argentina's Roberto de Vicenzo, in effect, penalizing himself. In fact, committing suicide by inattention.

At the 1967 Masters, final round, de Vicenzo birdied the 17th. But Tommy Aaron, his playing partner (keeping his score) jotted down a par 4 instead. De Vicenzo signed the scorecard without checking his scores.

Interesting thing about the scorecard: If you put in a score lower than you made, you're disqualified, but if you put in a higher one, you're simply stuck with it. The sin is its own punishment.

De Vicenzo would have tied Bob Goalby and they would have played off the next day. Instead, Goalby won by a stroke, leaving the poor de Vicenzo to utter possibly the most famous five words in golf: "What a stupid I am."

Nobody ever remembers a word of what Goalby said.

The Arnold Palmer Flap was more than part of Masters lore. It was bedrock to his great career. This was the embedded-ball thing of the 1958 Masters.

Palmer's tee shot at the par-3 12th plugged near the green. A special local rule was in effect, allowing relief from a plugged ball because of wet weather, but apparently the official at the 12th didn't hear about it. He refused to let Palmer lift the ball, so Palmer told him he would play the plugged ball but also play a second, and let tournament officials decide which one counted.

Palmer made 5 on the plugged ball and 3 on his second. Some holes later, officials informed him the 3 would stand. Palmer would go on to win his first green jacket.

Ernie Els was the center of a contretemps in 2004 that threatened Phil Mickelson's championship. At the par-4 11th, Els had hit his tee shot 25 or 30 yards off the fairway, back in a pile of small limbs and brush and such. His ball was sitting under a lot of stuff. He couldn't hit it.

But he didn't want to take an unplayable lie and the penalty that goes with it. He summoned an official and asked for relief. The official studied the situation and said no. Els summoned another official. The second official also said no.

Els went all the way to the top. He called in Will Nicholson, the head of officials. And Nicholson overruled the others, saying this wasn't merely a bunch of limbs and stuff, but a pile of course trimmings and debris that had been stacked there and was to be hauled away. He allowed Els a free lift.

Els went on to finish second behind Mickelson - by a shot. (Some TV viewers thought they saw Els' ball move as he studied the situation earlier - the ol' Rule By TV thing that continues to gain prominence - but nothing came of it.)

Rory McIlroy, then not quite 20, marked his first Masters visit with a flap. At the 18th in the second round, he failed to get his ball out of a bunker. Then he was moving his feet in the sand.

Well, kicking, is what it looked like - like he was miffed. Under the rules, he might have been testing the condition of the sand, getting ready for his next try. That's a violation.

But he'd already signed his card without a penalty at the 18th, meaning disqualification - the old incorrect scorecard again. The rules committee called him back to the clubhouse for a consultation. Was he testing the sand, or merely smoothing over the spot where he'd hit. Well, smoothing over, of course. It was generally agreed that the committee had cut him a huge break.

Today's players are indebted to Keith Fergus, though they may not know it. Fergus played in the late-1970s and early-'80s, and on one occasion lifted his ball from the white-lined fairway crosswalk, and backed up in the fairway and dropped. Later, a rules official asked why he had picked up his ball. Fergus explained that crosswalks are played as "ground under repair" on the PGA Tour because of all the traffic, and so the players get a free lift.

"But you're not on the tour now," the rules official said, and so the drop would not be free. Fergus would be penalized. Whereupon Fergus said something like, "Well, you better hit me again because I did the same thing at No. 8."

The following year, the Masters permitted the free drop off the crosswalks. Masters officials decided it wasn't fair to expect the tour pros to switch gears for one week.

Then there were Billy Casper and the Keystone Cops one year. Casper had put his tee shot into a bunker at the par-3 16th. He knocked the ball out and slapped it across the green and into the pond. Whereupon he took his penalty drop in the bunker by reaching back over his shoulder and releasing the ball. But wait.

A rules guy was summoned. There was a new way to drop this year. You put your hand out to one side, at shoulder level, then drop. Casper would have to repeat the drop. Legally this time. But how do you score this?

Another official was summoned. Then another. They huddled. It was getting crowded.

It was impossible to hear the urgent conversation. It seemed there was a question whether he should drop in the bunker or outside. Then there was the scoring.

Let's see - one stroke for the tee shot. A penalty stroke for the first drop. Then another? For doing that first drop wrong? They seemed to be stuck.

Finally someone summoned Joe Dey, the "Pope of Rules." Dey made a hurried consultation with the small crowd, and then with a few impatient gestures, unsnarled the thing and sent it off to its place in Masters lore.

Marino Parascenzo can assure you that hanging around with great and famous pro golfers does nothing to help your game. They just won't give you the secret. But it makes for a dandy career. As a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now retired), Parascenzo covered the whole gamut of sports - Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Pitt, Penn State and others - but golf was his favorite. As the beat writer for the paper, he covered all the stateside majors and numerous other pro events, and as a freelancer handled reporting duties for the British Open and other tournaments overseas - in Britain, Spain, Italy, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and Malayasia. Marino has won more than 20 national golf-writing awards, along with state and regional awards. He has received the Memorial Tournament's Golf Journalism Award and the PGA of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. His writing has appeared in numerous magazines, among them Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest and Golf Magazine, and in anthologies and foreign publications. He also wrote the history of Oakmont Country Club. Parascenzo is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America and is on its board of directors. He is the founder and chairman of the GWAA's Journalism Scholarship Program. He is a graduate of Penn State and was an adjunct instructor in journalism at Pitt.