The Tournament of Champions lost another star player Friday when Camilo Villegas was disqualified for a rules violation that a television viewer called in after the opening round at Kapalua.
Villegas was chipping up the slope to the 15th green when the ball twice rolled back toward him. The second time, Villegas walked over and casually swatted away some loose pieces of grass in front of the divot as the ball was still moving down the slope.
That is a violation of Rule 23-1 that says, “When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed.” The penalty is two shots. Villegas opened with a 72, and he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
Making it worse, Villegas was celebrating his 29th birthday Friday.
“It makes me sick … that it wasn’t recognized prior to him signing his card,” said Slugger White, the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules.
Villegas handled it with a little humor and a lot of perspective.
“If somebody called something in, I probably did something wrong,” he said with a shrug.
White found a decision in the rules that allowed for no penalty if the player did not realize the ball would wind up where the loose impediment was removed. That didn’t apply in this case because the ball was clearly coming down the steep slope toward his divot.
“Unfortunately, it was very obvious what he did,” White said.
Villegas arrived at the Plantation Course and held out his thumb when he saw White, as if to ask if he were out of the tournament.
“I said, ‘Yeah, but I’d like you took at this,’ and he said he would like to learn,” White said. “He could not have been better. He’s a big man. It’s one of those things.”
Villegas said the violation was clear.
“While it is obviously a disappointing way to start the season, the rules are the rules, and when something like this happens, it’s important to me that you’re respectful of the game and the people involved,” Villegas said in a statement.
It was a tough start to the year, coming off a season filled with peculiar rules decisions.
In two cases – Brian Davis ticking a reed in a waste area at Hilton Head and Ian Poulter’s coin moving slightly when he dropped his ball on the green during a playoff – the players called the penalty on themselves.
Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a bunker he didn’t know he was in at the PGA Championship, and the PGA of America notified him of the two-stroke penalty before he signed his card, knocking him out of a playoff. Juli Inkster also was disqualified for swinging a weighted club during a long wait on the tee. That infraction was called in by a viewer.
Television viewers have been calling in rules violations for years, leaving golf officials little choice. Every time a viewer calls in a possible violation that leads to disqualification, there are protests of inequity that only the top players get the most TV times.
“Everybody is on TV now. They’re televising 18 holes. They are scrutinized more,” White said. “That’s the price of success, I guess. It would have been nice to be on TV all the time. It means you’re playing good and making a lot of money.”
White said years ago, the PGA Tour put a rules official in the broadcast booth.
“You’re taking a guy off the golf course to watch something for three hours that never happens,” White said. “How many times does this happen?”
Villegas will received unofficial money of $53,500, as Ogilvy did when he withdrew. Neither gets FedEx Cup points. (Doug Ferguson / Associated Press)