Good Call Armchair rules officials kept Stewart Cink honest at the MCI Heritage

April 25, 2004

Stewart Cink lingered around the 18th hole at Harbour Town on
Sunday taking pictures and signing autographs after accepting his
trophy, a $864,000 check and a plaid jacket for winning the MCI
Heritage. Cink deserved a few minutes to bask in the glory. After
all, he had won by firing a seven-under 64 to come from a record
nine back and tie Ted Purdy after 72 holes. In the sudden-death
playoff he finally prevailed on the fifth hole by hitting a
74-yard wedge shot from a waste area to five feet and holing the
putt. But on his way to the media center Cink ran into Slugger
White, a PGA Tour rules official, who said there might be a
problem.

"A few people called in about something that happened out there
in the waste area," Cink said. "The whole thing is made of little
rocks. I moved rocks out of the way, and I didn't want the rocks
to come in between the club and the ball." Cink felt certain that
he'd done everything right, because as soon as his ball landed in
the waste area he grabbed White and started asking questions.
"What can I do? Am I allowed to move this or not?" Cink said. "He
told me exactly what I was allowed to move, and I did what I was
told I could do."

Cink was right: The same rule (Rule 23-1) that allowed Tiger
Woods to have the gallery move a huge boulder that sat in his way
at the 1999 Phoenix Open allowed Cink to pick and flick little
stones and shell fragments from behind his ball. The problem is
that some callers had questioned whether Cink had improved his
lie. That's not allowed.

The debate moved to the Tour's video booth where the replay was
reviewed 10 to 12 times, and officials determined that Cink had
not, in fact, improved his lie. The small trench viewers saw
behind his ball was a rake mark that had been there before Cink
even approached. Cink was pleased with the ruling but a little
perturbed that it even came up. "Honestly, it was a little
stressful because you play and you win and you play great and
you're proud, then all of a sudden you have something you need to
address," he said. "So I'm not quite as happy as I was 30 minutes
ago."

But that's life on the PGA Tour, the only interactive
professional sport, where fans can call in to question what
happens on the field of play--and sometimes actually affect the
outcome of a tournament. "It's such a gentleman's game, and these
guys call rules infractions on themselves all the time," says
White. "Sometimes we get a lot of calls, and I would say 99
percent of them are witch hunts. But we look at them, and we go
to the tape."

For his part Cink never really thought he'd lose his title, but,
he said, "I was afraid there might be question marks about it or
an asterisk." After the official review that's no longer a
concern. Of course rumors persist that the USGA will soon rule
broom-handle and belly putters nonconforming, which means that
Cink, who uses a long putter, may end up with that asterisk after
all.

COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF CBS (TOP) NITPICK Viewers wondered if Cink celebrated too soon after he cleared an area behind his ball (above). COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT HALLERAN/GETTY IMAGES (CINK) [See caption above] TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JIM GUND (PURDY AND SLOCUM)

Trust Me

The federal court ruling that overturned restrictions on
demonstrations at Augusta National means that Martha Burk will be
on the streets and in the headlines at the 2005 Masters.

Up & Down

Jay Haas

The fab 50-year-old tied for seventh and moved up to 11th in the
Ryder Cup standings.

Brian Harman

The 17-year-old whiz kid took a first step toward the PGA Tour
and stubbed his toe (81-76).

Final-Hole Heroics

Before Sunday seven of the last eight Tour events were decided
on tense 72nd-hole shots.

Playoffs

You'd think extra holes on the PGA and LPGA tours would be more
exciting.

Ted Purdy

Yes, he lost, but the 366th-ranked player in the world played
great on a tough course.

Heath Slocum

He began Sunday in second but slipped all the way to 32nd with a
closing 78.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)