Tiger Woods walks the 15th fairway during the second round of the Masters… (Jeff Siner / McClatchy-Tribune )
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Suddenly, Tiger Woods had a second chance to do something special at the Masters. He needed to look at this as an opportunity, not a curse.
Before he was scheduled to tee off in the third round of this event, which is watched and revered worldwide, we learned he had been assessed a two-stroke penalty for taking a drop farther from the proximity of his original shot that went into the water on No. 15 on Friday.
That penalty came about after a TV viewer noticed what he had done and called Masters officials. They do that a lot these days, and in this age of the Internet and fan involvement in everything, we shouldn’t be surprised.
Today, you will hear and read enough about the various rules and interpretations of each step along the way to give you a headache. But the bottom-line conclusion from this typist is that Woods needed to withdraw.
And we say that not out of any deeper understanding of the rules or deep devotion to the sanctity of the game. We say it because Woods violated a rule. Doesn’t matter whether he did it purposely or not, although his TV interview quite clearly indicated that he took the drop where he took it because he thought a few feet farther back would help him.
All the details aside, what Woods had was a chance to make a gesture that says he is not bigger than the game, that dozens of his fellow pro players have withdrawn over the years on the face of similar situations and he should hae too.
Woods has a public relations problem. He could have made a huge dent in that by doing the right thing here.
After his huge marital mess in 2009, after which the world -- not just the golf world but the world -- became totally polarized over him, he came to the first major tournament of the year in 2010, the Masters.
It was here that he could have made his biggest statement, could have embraced the fans and toned down the win-at-all-costs intensity. That, of course, didn’t happen, and the world getting its first big look at the post-driveway-crash, Tiger -- and perhaps hoping for someone a bit less driven by golf and a bit more driven by humanity -- got only snarls and sneers and thrown clubs.
Since then, the edges seem to have been smoothed a bit by age and maturity. And now he has an opportunity to do the right thing, to honor the game more than winning at all costs. We all make mistakes. How we are viewed in light of those mistakes comes from how we handle them in their aftermath.
In the long run, doing the right thing here is vastly more important for Woods than taking a run at another major. He, himself, has said that, at age 37, he has plenty of time left to pursue Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Grand Slam event titles. Woods has 14.
His real victory would have been standing up and saying, as so many of his peers have over the years: “I made a mistake. I didn’t do it maliciously. I am withdrawing.”
The public relations boost from that would be tremendous. The image of this Tiger would change from snarly to fuzzy. He has tried, in so many ways, to move past the mess he made of his life and the scorn it brought to him in much of the public.
Now, he can.
Asked Friday about the young Chinese amateur, Tianlang Guan, being assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play, Woods said, “Rules is rules.”
Also, doing the right thing is doing the right thing.