Date: April 09, 2017
Author: Mike Clayton

Ifs, buts and maybes

"If it wasn’t for that nine he’d have had a three-shot lead."

Peter Kostis, the CBS Masters commentator did the simple arithmetic toward the end of the third round at Augusta, gave Spieth a par instead of a pitch into the water, pitch over the back and three to get down from there quadruple bogey the 2015 champion had made on Thursday’s opening round and came to a definitive conclusion.

The problem is, in golf the cards fall where they may and who is to know how it all would have played out had be made a par at the par five?

"I came out with a completely different mindset," Spieth said of his 69 on Friday.

"It was a ‘who cares’ mindset."

Curtis Strange opened with an 80 in the 1985 Masters, checked out of his hotel, revised his plane reservations and went to the course with no expectation of making the cut. With all the pressure gone he went out and shot a carefree 65. Perhaps it wasn’t so carefree as he played the final few holes on that Friday morning but does anyone think it was likely he’d have shot 65 if his Thursday score had been 72 and not 80?

Of course no one will ever know but it isn’t as simple as Kostis was suggesting because pressure subtly shifts in golf and as likely as not it affects how players both react and score.

Where it is relevant is the controversy of last week at the first major championship of the women’s season.

In Saturday’s third round Lexi Thompson marked a short putt on the 17th green, moved the ball to a different position, and holed a putt somewhere close to fifteen inches.

She didn’t move it far but it was far enough for someone watching the telecast to notice, call the LPGA and suggest they might like to review the tape.

Thompson had by then signed her (incorrect) card and played the front nine on Sunday with the comfortable cushion of a four shot lead.

After the American finished up her 12th hole, where he had just nervously missed a short putt, the officials informed her she was to be penalized four shots – two for the mismarking and two for signing an incorrect card.

Outrage ensued, mainly amongst those with what seems to be a limited knowledge of proper procedure.

Some actually suggested she had gained no advantage. Seriously? They are saying that’s how the rules should work?

A friend of mine once caddied for a very good player whose ball moved in the rough. He confronted him in the hotel that night to be told by his boss, ‘but it didn’t improve my lie.’

‘Well, if that’s how it’s going to be you are going to have to find yourself a new caddy.’

Others argued players cannot be expected to put the ball back exactly where it was every time.

Occasionally you may be a dimple or even two out but it’s just not that hard to put it back where it was. Moving it an inch – which was about what it was – may as well be a foot, so far is it from the correct place. It’s not even close.

You can ascribe whatever motive to her action you want and only Thompson truly knows what she was doing and what, if anything went through her mind.

In a moment she went from leading by three shots to trailing by one and the whole complexion of the tournament changed.

Immediately she as did the rest of the contenders, have to recalculate their standing relative to each other and from there the cards fell were they did.

She birdied the 13th with a 25-foot putt. But, who is to say she would have holed that putt if not for the penalty? She birdied the 15th, bogeyed the 16th and birdied the final hole to tie So Yeon Ryu, the Korean who has been the best player in the world since September last year when she was 2nd in the Evian Championship, the final major of the women’s year.

Her worst finish since has been 7th and she was judged to be the third best player on the planet when she and Thompson went back to the 18th tee for the playoff.

Ryu hit two perfect shots to the edge of the water-fronted par five green but Thompson drove right into the thick rough, pitched out, pitched on and two putted for a par. Ryu in front of a very partisan American crowd calmly holed from six feet, adding a second major championship to her 2011 U.S Open.

The simple maths is the same as Spieth’s. Thompson hit the ball four fewer times than Ryu.

But who can say how it would have all played out if she had informed her marker she had mistakenly replaced her ball on the green and her score in the hole was not in fact the three but a five?

No one will ever know but Thompson should be eternally grateful to the viewer who called in because imagine if it had come to light after the tournament was officially closed as it would have been on Monday morning.

Her win would have forever have been blighted by the knowledge she had played by a different standard to Ryu and the rest of the field.