CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It looked as though Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson got off easy.
Both cases cried out for punishment. Both players were covered by the rules, although one was subject to interpretation. And in both instances, even though the circumstances were entirely different, there was outrage from their peers.
No wonder there's a perception of a double standard on the PGA Tour.
Woods hit a 9-iron on the ninth hole at Firestone last year that bounced onto and over the clubhouse roof, landing in the service entry where a kid delivering crunchy cream pies scooped up the ball and drove away.
Woods got a free drop, because the clubhouse was not marked out of bounds.
Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia watched this development unfold and were disgusted that Woods could get such a break. He escaped with a bogey and went on to win the tournament two days later.
Last Wednesday, Mickelson missed his pro-am at the Byron Nelson Championship. He had been in Little Rock, Ark., for a charity event, and severe thunderstorms grounded his private plane Tuesday night.
Under PGA Tour policy adopted three years ago, anyone who doesn't take part in the pro-am doesn't get to play in the tournament. But the policy was tweaked last year to allow for "serious personal emergencies," and tour officials deemed that an act of God - the weather in this case - kept the world's No. 3 player from getting to the course.
He was allowed to play and tied for third, his best finish in two months.
"It seemed, from the outside looking in, very, very fishy," Jim Furyk said Tuesday. "Not being well enough versed on the rules, I don't know if the right call was made or not. But I understand why the red flag went up."
One reason for the red flag was the name - Mickelson, the star attraction at a tournament otherwise deplete of stars.
The other reason was because of a pro-am policy that was designed to crack down on player absenteeism - but instead has been filled with cracks the PGA Tour has been attempting to patch up for the past two years.
In 2005, Chad Campbell wanted to play the 84 Lumber Classic - the tournament even had his wife sing at one of its functions - but he asked out of the pro-am Wednesday to attend his grandmother's funeral. The tour made him choose between the pro-am and the funeral, and Campbell withdrew from the tournament.
Bob Tway asked out of a pro-am at the BellSouth Classic last year so he and his son, Kevin, could attend the funeral of Bob Johnson, the teenager whom Tway's son had beaten in the final of the U.S. Junior Amateur. Tway was using a one-time exemption to keep his card, missed the funeral and then missed the cut.
Wes Short Jr. wanted to skip out on a pro-am because his father was about to have quadruple-bypass surgery, but he had to choose between the pro-am and spending time with his father.
The tour has tweaked its policy with every incident.
It started out that a player only could miss a pro-am and still play in the tournament if he was on site with an injury and had a note from his doctor. After the Campbell episode, it was changed to allow players to miss pro-ams in the case of a death in the immediate family. After the Tway and Short incidents, the tour added "serious personal emergency."
That was broad enough to cover a myriad of issues - such as a plane being grounded by thunderstorms.
No one was more bemused by the Mickelson ruling than Retief Goosen, the poster boy for this policy.
The two-time U.S. Open champion flew across eight time zones, from London to Los Angeles, to play in the Nissan Open two years ago. He overslept Wednesday morning and arrived 20 minutes late for his pro-am time at Riviera.
His partners were on the first green. He was out of the tournament.
Imagine his surprise when he flipped on the TV last week in time to see Mickelson talking about his round at the Byron Nelson Championship with a subtitle on the screen that said, "Missed his Wednesday pro-am."
"Obviously, they abandoned that rule," Goosen said.
He wasn't aware it had been altered over the past couple of years, and he was curious about the latest loophole.
"So he must have had a serious personal issue," Goosen said.
Yes, well, he was doing a charity event in Arkansas and storms kept his plane from leaving Tuesday night and early Wednesday.
"Where was the charity?" Goosen said.
"And how far is it to drive from there?" Goosen inquired. Although he grew up in South Africa and lives in London, he realized one option would have been a five-hour drive.
Ultimately, Goosen concluded that it was good for the tournament that Mickelson played.
But that opinion was not shared universally.
Scott Verplank drove three hours from Oklahoma that Tuesday night, calling friends in Dallas for weather updates to dodge the tornadoes. Once at the tournament, he heard so much griping that he sent a text message to a tour staff member that said, "War paint on sale in locker room. Scalps wanted."
"I heard a lot of guys complaining, and I don't think any of it was directed at Phil," Verplank said. "I think it was directed at the application of our rule. I'm sure they'll be working to clean that up."
His solution was to fine a player $100,000 for missing a pro-am - if he still wanted to play. Furyk suggested making anyone who missed the pro-am for whatever reason make it up by attending a two-hour corporate function.
"If it boiled down to me going out and playing for four or five hours ... or sitting in a room with a sports coat on for two hours, I think I'd take the outdoors," he said.
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