Dulac: Is integrity at stake for Woods?

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Fred Ridley, chairman of the competition committee and the man ultimately responsible for delivering the reprieve that has Tiger Woods still playing in the Masters, said his tournament is built on the integrity first ingrained at the Augusta National Golf Club by the legendary Bobby Jones.

And it is that integrity, Ridley said, on which the decision to protect the rules of golf -- and Woods from being disqualified -- was made.

But if integrity is what's at stake at the Masters, if doing the right thing is what the club has always embodied as a standard-bearer for golf's sacred vows, then Woods should have done what any player of integrity would have done in his situation.

He should have withdrawn from the Masters.

He should not have let himself tee off in the third round Saturday, post a score of 70 and put himself in position to make a run at a fifth green jacket today, just four shots from the lead.

He should have recused himself from the tournament and accepted the plaudits of his peers and, yes, even his detractors, for doing the right thing. It would have been another positive step for Woods in what has been a recalcitrant process to rebuild his tarnished image.

Instead, he has done what he has sometimes done in the past: Create a potentially embarrassing situation that leaves him open to even more criticism of his moral turpitude.

What happens now if Woods wins the Masters? Do they attach an asterisk to the victory? Do they sew a scarlet letter on the green jacket? Does the ground in Amen Corner start to shake?

Who would feel more uneasy -- Woods or the people who continued to let him play?

"Well, I can't really control what the perception might or might not be," Ridley said. "It is the right ruling under these circumstances."

Understand, it was Ridley and members of the competition committee -- Jim Reinhart, an Augusta National member who is a former rules chairman for the United States Golf Association; and Mark Russell, a PGA Tour rules official -- who allowed Woods to continue in the tournament.

Ridley said they are convinced the illegal drop Woods made on the 15th hole in the second round, after he hit his third shot in the water, was not done with intentional deceit.

"I didn't see anything, and he didn't tell me anything, that would lead me to believe that he knowingly violated the rule," Ridley said

Woods violated Rule 26-1a, that a player has to "play a ball as nearly as possible at the spot from which the original ball was last played."

In a post-round interview with ESPN's Tom Rinaldi, Woods admitted he made his drop beyond the point of his third shot, about 2 yards away. Ridley said the two-shot penalty was for violating Rule 20-7 -- hitting from the wrong place.

Woods is being protected by a rule that was revised in 2011 by the United States Golf Association and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, allowing players who learn of a violation after they have signed their scorecard to be penalized but not disqualified.

That rule -- Rule 33-7 -- was revised mainly to protect players who are deemed to have committed an infraction only after an incident is reviewed on television replay with the aid of high definition. In those instances, the player is unaware he has violated a rule and the penalty is not discovered until after he has signed his scorecard.

The rule was changed after an incident at the 2011 Abu Dhabi Championship in which Padraig Harrington, after an opening-round 65, was disqualified because he failed to replace a ball that moved a fraction of an inch when he picked up his marker.

The violation was reported by a television viewer and detected only by using super-slow motion replay. Harrington was assessed a two-shot penalty and disqualified for signing for the wrong score.

But the spirit of that rule is to protect players who were unaware they committed some type of physical violation. It does not protect players who do not know the rules. And, as many discover in a court of law, ignorance of the rules is not a viable defense.

Woods said after his round he never considered withdrawing.

"No, because under the rules of golf, I'm abiding by the rules," he said. "They made the determination that nothing had happened and things."

Indeed, there will be some who will argue that same point, that Woods was indeed following the rules, new or otherwise, and was merely abiding by the decision of tournament officials.

But maybe he should have followed the ideal set forth by Jones. Maybe he should have done what any player of integrity would have done.

Of course, I think we all know the answer to that.

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