So, I have a question: Why would Tiger Woods ever again give a television interview after one of his golf rounds?

I mean, without a lawyer present?

Golf is such a gorgeous game. It's also the stupidest one at times, often because golf rulesmakers insist on segmenting the game's gorgeousness into a fine-print batch of arcane gibberish.

That's what happened to Woods at the Masters. Basically, he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for being honest in a TV interview on Friday night.

Yes, really. And it might cost him the tournament.

"It was certainly a distraction," Woods told a CBS television interviewer after his Saturday round, which left him in a tie for seventh place and four shots out of the tournament lead. "But like anything, it happens and you move on."

Not exactly. Big-name athletes in other sports are punished all the time for various stuff -- but the rules violations and punishments in golf always seem to create the most tut-tutting and teeth gnashing.

And so it was Saturday morning at Augusta National Golf Club. The whole mess began Friday, when Woods hit a shot into the water on the 15th hole. As required, Woods took one penalty stroke and dropped a new golf ball near the same location as his previous shot. He then wedged the ball onto the green close enough to make the putt and salvage a bogey.

All fine, right? No.


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As Woods was finishing up his Friday round, rules officials received a call from a TV viewer who said that Woods had dropped his new ball at No. 15 farther away from the original location than permitted. But when the officials checked videotape, they decided the viewer was mistaken. So, officials didn't notify Woods of any problem and didn't punish him -- until he casually explained in one of his interviews that he had, indeed, dropped the ball "two yards further back" from the original spot.

Woods did not know this was a violation. He should have. But he clearly didn't. Otherwise, why would he own up to breaking a rule during his subsequent interview? If Woods had declined to talk -- or if this had been 1938, when there was no videotape -- nothing would have happened. However, when the rules officials were advised of his remarks at 10 p.m. Friday, they chose overnight to retroactively apply the proper two-stroke penalty.

Woods was lucky. Two years ago, he would have been disqualified from the tournament for signing an incorrect score card after Friday's round. But under yet another newly implemented rule (33.7, if you must know), a player can no longer be disqualified if a rules official absolves a violation before the score card is signed, then decides later that there was indeed a violation that would have changed the score card. So it was just a two-stroke penalty.

Confused? Welcome to golf!

The sport's fundamentalist community was aghast and agog Saturday. Some thought Woods should have disqualified himself on his own.

Others thought he had been given special consideration because of his superstar status and his ability to draw in television viewers.

Why, even former 49er quarterback Joe Montana decided to weigh in on the controversy via Twitter, saying: "This would be like going back on a call in the Super Bowl that would change the outcome of the game."

Montana also blamed the USGA for the trouble, although the USGA had nothing to do with this particular absurdity. The Masters is a privately run tournament. Augusta National has its own competition committee. The committee denied that Woods received preferential treatment.

"Integrity has been the underpinning of this club," the committee chairman, Fred Ridley, told CBS Sports. "We apply the rules the same to everyone."

For his part, Woods seemed to roll with the gut punch. He birdied three of the last seven holes Saturday to put himself in contending position for Sunday's final round. He'll chase leaders Brandt Snedeker and Angel Cabrera. But if Woods should come up two strokes short of victory . . . well, you know what he'll be thinking. It will be the same thing everyone is thinking. And if he wins the tournament, you know what the golf fundamentalists will be thinking.

But here's what everyone should do: Shut up and enjoy watching the golf. Woods admitted he "absolutely" goofed and deserved the penalty. He said that when he made the illegal drop, he wasn't thinking straight because he was so angry about hitting his first ball into the drink. Woods said he decided not to withdraw in shame because he was "abiding by the rules" in accepting the two-shot penalty.

From here, this seems to be a case where a lot of people goofed up, but there was no sinister conspiracy afoot. What's the worst that can happen? Woods will win. Or Woods will lose. And people will argue either way. Just don't expect Woods to discuss his detailed thought process on any shot again. It can get a guy in trouble. Golf, the gorgeous game.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com.