The Last Word

Ken Fidlin -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

ANCASTER -- It is one absurdity piled on top of another until the whole thing begins to stink. Before we get to the source of the odour that fouled the conclusion to yesterday\'s second round of the Canadian Open, first a word about what a great game golf must be if a guy like Paul Azinger can grit his teeth and be so gracious after getting so horribly shafted.

The reason that golf is so great is its relentless, uncompromising enforcement of its rules, even the ones that make no logical sense. On the other hand, the reason that golf is an ass is its relentless, uncompromising enforcement of rules, especially the ones that make no logical sense.

Which brings us to the 13th green yesterday afternoon. Fred Funk, Azinger and Robert Damron are grinding it out in the second round. Both Funk and Azinger have it going, both are right up there on the leaderboard.

Funk\'s second shot had gone long, over the green. Now he had a delicate pitch back down the severely sloped green and he hit a good one. It trickled down the slope, past the hole and came to rest two feet below the hole.

Unnoticed by anyone on the green, Azinger\'s caddie, Ted Scott, lifted the pin just a split-second before Funk\'s ball came to a full and complete stop.

But ESPN\'s TV cameras were rolling and a viewer detected Scott\'s indiscretion. You may or may not have heard of rule 17-2b, which forbids a competitor or his caddie from removing the flagstick without the prior consent of a fellow competitor who is making a stroke or whose ball is in motion.

BUSYBODY

But some busybody watching the telecast certainly had. He telephoned PGA headquarters in Florida to report the crime and the word was passed along to Tour officials at the golf course. They reviewed the TV footage and determined that yes, a violation had occurred but they only could see the assailant\'s shoes.

When Azinger, Funk, Damron and their caddies arrived at the scoring room after their round, a posse was waiting to inspect everyone\'s lower extremities. They positively identified Scott\'s shoes and he \'fessed up.

Azinger then was assessed a two-stroke penalty to drop him from a tie for second place, just one shot behind leader Charles Howell III, into a tie for 10th place, three shots back of Howell.

If this sounds like science fiction to you, then you haven\'t been paying attention. This type of remote intervention has been going on ever since television lenses started roaming the world\'s golf courses. This isn\'t even the first time that Azinger has been penalized as a result of a viewer telephone call.

It is goofy enough that Azinger could be penalized, even though the action of lifting the flag could not interfere with the ball as it rolled further away from the hole. It is even goofier that the ruling could be influenced -- instigated, in fact -- by somebody more than a thousand kilometres away peering at his TV screen.

And this travesty will reach its ludicrous conclusion tomorrow afternoon if Azinger happens to lose the tournament by one shot.

\"It\'s a very harsh rule,\" said Mike Shea, the on-site PGA Rules official. \"The rules of golf can sometimes be harsh. All I can tell you is that\'s the way the book has been written. It\'s a wonderful code for a game that has been around for a long time.\"

It is not so much the penalty, or the enforcement of it, but the fact that it was detected only because of television that rankles.

If this was the case in other sports, the Buffalo Sabres might have a Stanley Cup win. Or Italy might be World Cup soccer champs. Or NFL games might take nine days to complete.

For his part, Azinger handled the penalty as well as could be expected. Better, actually.

\"It is clear in black and white that if the ball is still rolling and the pin has been pulled, then I suffer the penalty,\" he said. \"I understand that but common sense says that if the ball was rolling off the green and could no longer go in the hole and my caddie pulled the pin ... I don\'t know. It is irritating. It is disappointing. My caddie feels terrible, and it is just one of those things.\"

Azinger is no spring chicken and when he gets a sniff of the lead, you never know when or if it might happen again. Nobody, even a classy veteran like Azinger, ever is owed anything. In this game, you earn it and this week he has earned his chance.

What he didn\'t earn was this penalty. In short, it stinks. 


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