AUGUSTA, Ga -- In golf, and almost no other sport, interactive, real-time communication between armchair television viewers and referees supervising the competition routinely changes rulings and alters the outcomes of tournaments. This collaboration of living room second-guessers and rules officials is an almost weekly occurrence. On Saturday, it embroiled the Masters, golf's biggest event, in a rules controversy that involved the game's most celebrated player, Tiger Woods.
Woods, who had been three strokes off the lead, was assessed a two-stroke penalty Saturday for hitting from the wrong spot Friday, a violation first flagged by a television viewer. Woods could have been disqualified from the Masters, but officials instead invoked a rarely applied 2-year-old rule that spares offending players in exceptional cases.
The kindle for the rules firestorm began with a short and simple text message.
A friend of a Masters rules official saw something on television that looked improper -- an illegal drop by Woods after his ball plunked into a pond at the 15th hole.
Masters officials would not reveal the identity of the texter, but the claim was brought before the Masters rules committee, which decided there was no violation. Then, about an hour later, Woods inadvertently implicated himself, saying he had taken two steps back before dropping his ball, which was not permitted under the circumstances.
Unheard-of in other sports, such communication between viewers and tournament officials happens nearly every week on the pro golf tours.
At the Masters, officials said hundreds of viewers contacted the club with suspected rules infractions. Most often, they call the club, whose phone number is easy to find on the Internet.
"There are a lot of people out there that know a lot about the rules, or think they know a lot about the rules," said Fred Ridley, the Masters chairman for competition committees. "It creates more work for us, but we do look at every one of these."