As with most stories there are two sides to be told. This case is no different, especially since the two sides were separated by fifty yards. The scene of this controversy was The Players Championship in the delayed third round in the final pairing of Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia.
On the second hole, Garcia, away and hitting his second shot in the fairway was distracted by the gallery that was gathered around Tiger's drive in the left pine straw. Several seconds prior to Sergio's swing, Tiger pulled his fairway wood out of this bag and the crowd reacted favorably to his choice to go for it. This favorable cheering distracted Sergio and caused him (his own words) to miss the ball way right into the trees on the right. Sergio bogeyed the hole.
I think in the aftermath Tiger had no idea that this had occurred until the press asked him about it later that day. Tiger went on to say that Sergio was "complaining" and insinuated that Sergio always complains. A verbal war of words went on from there, but that is not the main topic I want to discuss now.
Tiger said he had asked a marshal if Sergio had played, got an affirmative response, and went about his business. In watching the event on replay I cannot agree that is exactly how it went down. If you watch Tiger, he goes over to his bag and pulls out the fairway wood then points his finger in Sergio's direction as if to ask has Sergio played. This shows me that he pulled the club before Sergio had hit and did not look or even care what Sergio was doing at the time. I have even seen recent stories where the marshal on the course states that he did not give Tiger the go-ahead, and later stories confirming that a marshal did give him the go-ahead, but one can never be sure what happened exactly with the marshal. Either way, marshals are not always on top of what is going on.
Tiger was wrong and didn't want to admit that he had made a mistake. I have done what Tiger did very often in playing with my friends. If I were in the trees as he was, I will pull out the club I want to hit and start making rehearsal swings to see if the trees are going to affect my swing. Occasionally one of the other players in my group will wait and see if I am going to actually hit the ball or I am just checking. Basically Tiger and I are guilty of being in our own world and not paying attention to the other players in the group. There is a enormous difference between me and Tiger because there is no gallery following me around and reacting to me pulling a club.
What clouded this issue in my mind is the icy relationship between Tiger and Sergio. I think if this was John Doe Pro, Tiger likely would have apologized to him after mistake and this would have been a non-story. I think Tiger doesn't like Sergio and therefore did not feel compelled to apologize and even stoked the fire by adding the complainer label to Sergio.
Some will argue that Sergio could have hit that shot even if there was no distraction, and even Sergio admitted that himself. Plus I have been to a few Tour events and it is rarely if ever dead quiet. There are people on other holes cheering birdies, yelling fore off tees all sorts of craziness and the player either backs off or plays through it. Sergio may have played the whole thing up a bit acting the victim more than he should have, but he was still in the right and should have gotten an apology.
I want to add, this event had little to do with the outcome. Tiger won fair and square and played the best. He deserved and did win. Sergio succumbed to the pressure of the theater of the seventeenth hole and lost the tournament there. I was a bit disappointed because I felt the tournament would have had a fitting end if Tiger and Sergio were in a playoff to decide the winner after all that had happened.
Too much time has passed now for Tiger to apologize. It would be awkward and contrived. The golf press may for a time look to get some additional mileage out of this story, but likely Sergio and Tiger have moved on. With both players playing at a very high level it may come to pass that they battle again and the press will have a field day with it.
Photo credits: © Richard Heathcote.