Here is the crux of my issue with "Virtual Certainty" and making a differentiation between a ball that is clearly lost in a hazard and a ball that may be lost outside a hazard.
A hits it way off line and into the middle of the lake where everyone sees it splash. He can't find the ball but has virtual certainty it is in the hazard and can proceed under the hazard options.
B, hitting from the same spot as A, hits it less off line towards the edge of the same hazard. Nobody sees it splash, but everyone thinks that it is more likely than not in the same hazard as A hit into. When B walks up the line his ball took towards the hazard, there is some soft ground and light rough leading into the hazard. More likely than not he is in the hazard, but if he is honest with himself, he can't be virtually certain he is in the hazard so the rules require that he play it as a lost ball.
I fail to understand why it should be an advantage to hit it deeper into a hazard just because it makes you more certain you are in the hazard.
There are 10 holes on the two courses that I play most often where the virtual certainty issue has the possibility of arising. While many people I play with have no clue on the rules, some do and even attempt to follow them for the most part, but I have NEVER seen someone play a ball hit toward the edge of a hazard as a lost ball. I have however found many balls located at the edge of hazards, but outside the hazard boundaries. I can guarantee you that 99.9% of these balls were played as if they were lost in the hazard (unless they guy simply took a mulligan or some other non-rules option)
Virtual Certainty almost never arises on TV Golf because spectators and TV coverage help locate balls so there are very few instances where a ball is lost outside a hazard. I realize that some course have few natural hazards but the rules of golf should cover all courses fairly (except in the most unusual situations which is not what I consider natural water hazards to include).
I am not exactly sure of the history of "virtual certainty" but this seems to indicate that it could be as new as 2008.
The term “known or virtually certain” was introduced to the Rules of Golf in 2008 and its application has not always been completely understood or appreciated by some players. The principle application of this term has been related to determining if a ball was in a water hazard or lateral water hazard.
Suppose the grass immediately in front of and to the line defining the margin of the hazard is closely mowed and a ball is observed to land on the ground and continue to roll at a good rate of speed toward that hazard and disappears down the slope toward the water and is not found. In this example, such observation would very likely lead to the conclusion of “Virtual Certainty” that the ball is in the hazard.
Suppose the grass immediately in front of and to the line defining the margin of the hazard is closely mowed and a ball is observed to land on the ground after flying high in the air. However, on this particular day, perhaps as a result of heavy rain, overnight watering, or heavy dew the ground is quite wet. While in the previous example we reached the conclusion of “Virtually Certainty” that the ball is in the hazard, that is NOT the case under these circumstances. Because of the wetness of the ground it is possible that a ball traveling at high speed and dropping after a high soaring shot by a player could be embedded in the fairway and may not be in the water hazard at all. We would be lacking “Virtual Certainty” and therefore must conclude that ball is lost outside the water hazard and must be treated as a “lost ball.”