Augusta, GA (Sports Network) - The leader of the 77th Masters still has 36 holes to play. Yet, whatever happens in that span, two rulings will overshadow the outcome of this tournament.
Tianlang Guan was given a 1-stroke penalty for slow play on Friday.
Saturday morning, Tiger Woods was assessed a 2-stroke penalty for an illegal drop on Friday afternoon.
Were they the right calls? By the book, absolutely. Were they handled correctly? That's open with plenty of debate.
Guan was first timed on No. 12, then warned after his second shot on No. 13. He had another bad time on the 17th, and was penalized.
John Paramor, the referee that assessed that penalty, did his job to the letter of the law. Should he have given Guan a break because he was playing in front of thousands of people for the first time in his life?
No way. Paramor did his job the way it is supposed to be done, and quite frankly, I wish more officials would give slow play penalties.
A quick aside. The last slow-play penalty in a regular PGA Tour event was in 1995. The last one in a major was in 2007. Far too long for both.
Guan clearly wasn't the only slow player out there yesterday, that's why some question whether he should have been penalized. Woods was in the next-to-last group on Friday and took some five hours, 45 minutes to complete his round.
With 93 players in the field, the pace of play was brutal. You expect slow play at the U.S. Open with thick rough and treacherous greens, but most of these guys play Augusta every year. They know the wind will swirl, the greens will be quick and the fairways will be firm and fast.
I applaud Paramor for his ruling. Not because it was the 14-year-old Guan, but because he was given a warning and had another bad time. That equals a penalty regardless of who it is.
The Woods ruling has TV voices like Brandel Chamblee and former masters champion Nick Faldo calling for Woods to withdrawal or disqualify himself from the tournament.
Woods stated in a post-round interview Friday that he dropped his ball about two yards behind where had hit his previous shot from. That shot, of course, caromed off the flagstick and back into the water.
By rule, Woods needed to drop as near as possible to where he hit the last shot from, if he choose that option. Two yards clearly isn't as near as possible.
The rules committee was made aware of the possible infraction while Woods was still on the course. He finished his round, and based on evidence at the time, no penalty was given and Woods signed for a 1-under 71.
In a television interview after his rounds, Woods stated he dropped two yards back to adjust his yardage on how he intended to play the shot.
That warranted further review by the committee. It was determined that he broke Rule 26, but would not be disqualified because of Rule 33, which was enacted within the last two years.
Both rulings have very detailed explanations regarding many situations. It's fairly clear Woods didn't drop "as near as possible" to where he had hit his previous chip.
Honestly, if people are going to fret over Woods' drop on 15, they should take a look at his drop on No. 13 as well. On that hole, his tee shot stopped on a sprinkler head and he took a nearest-point-of-relief drop. From the television footage, that drop looked more than the two club lengths from the relief point in which the ball should have been dropped.
Should he withdrawal or disqualify himself? Plenty of people have strong rulings one way or another on that.
My thoughts? Blame the committee. Someone on the tournament rules committee had to have heard Woods' interview after the round and thought to himself two yards back is not that way that shot should have been played.
Now, with much public debate and conjecture, the committee chose a 2-stroke penalty instead of disqualification. It might not be the right move, it is the move they made.
One ruling by the book. One ruling skewed by ambiguous rules. Both will linger in Masters lore, much like Woods' romp in 1997 and Jack Nicklaus' win in 1986.
The two rulings were handled very differently. Both could have been ruled another way. Either way, the rulings against Guan and Woods will hover over this tournament until a champion is crowned on Sunday.
If that champion is Woods? The fever pitch of debate on his ruling will be off the charts.