TIGER WOODS has faced more scrutiny that any other golfer from his generation. Maybe ever. Just not this variety.
Woods must long for the days when the golf world obsessed over his swing changes (all four of them) and questioned his coaches (all three of them). He was criticized for not playing enough tournaments and not giving the tournaments he did play enough notice that he was coming.
Some complained he practiced so early in the morning that paying customers didn't get a chance to see him. Others complained he didn't sign enough autographs. Most of it was petty.
But this is different.
Now it's his integrity on the golf course that's being questioned.
Woods won The Players Championship on Sunday for his fourth victory this year. Making it even more memorable, Woods seemingly ended his public spat with Sergio Garcia by posing with the crystal trophy. They were tied with two holes to play, and Garcia hit three shots in the water.
That all seems like B-material compared with the buzz over the drop Woods took on the 14th hole of the final round.
He hit what he called a "popup hook" with a 3-wood from the tee, and the ball landed in the water left of the fairway. Consulting with playing partner Casey Wittenberg, he dropped it some 255 yards short of the green. Woods then hit a remarkable shot short of the green, pitched on and missed a 6-foot putt to take double bogey.
The Internet has been alive with video showing the ball's flight on the 14th, along with analysis dissecting what was and was not said by a TV analyst, and seemingly endless theories how the ball could possibly have crossed land where Woods took his drop.
The chatter won't stop, even though there is nowhere to go with it. Consider this statement put out by Mark Russell, the tour's vice president of competition: "Without definitive evidence, the point where Woods' ball last crossed the lateral water hazard is determined through best judgment by Woods and his fellow competitor," the statement said.
This might not be that big of an issue except that Woods in his most recent tournament - the Masters - was guilty of taking an illegal drop on the 15th hole at Augusta National. He eventually was docked two shots, but spared disqualification by the Masters, because officials said they erred in not talking to Woods about the drop before he signed his scorecard, a decision backed up by the rules.
Meanwhile, there was another an incident at Sawgrass involving Garcia in which Woods shared some responsibility. On Saturday, the scene on the par-5 second hole was chaotic. Woods was so deep in the trees that it appeared it was his turn to hit. Garcia stood over his second shot for the longest time. There was a burst of cheers when Woods pulled out his 5-wood. Garcia finished his swing and looked over at the crowd, clearly frustrated.
Garcia suggested in a TV interview during a storm delay that Woods pulled the club at just the right time to fire up the crowd and disrupt his swing. Woods said in a TV interview that evening, "The marshals, they told me he already hit, so I pulled a club and was getting ready to play my shot."
Sports Illustrated talked to the chief marshal for that section of the course, John North, who said he stood over the ball to keep the gallery away from it and was 5 feet away when Woods played his shot.
"Nothing was said to us and we certainly said nothing to him," North said. "I was disappointed to hear him make those remarks. We're there to help the players and enhance the experience of the fans. He was saying what was good for him. It lacked character."
However, the Florida Times-Union, quoted two marshals as saying there was communication between Woods and volunteers.
"It is not true and definitely unfair to Tiger," said Brian Nedrich, a marshal at the second hole. "That's because I was the one Tiger heard say that Sergio hit."
Woods' mistake was not looking over to the other player to determine who was away.
Garcia's mistake was not doing what just about every other tour player would have done - say something to Woods, instead of calling him out on TV. The ball was back in Woods' court at this point. Instead of telling Garcia he didn't see him (if he didn't) or apologizing (if he did) he threw out the line about the marshals and couldn't resist taking a shot.
Lost in this mess is that Woods is playing golf at a very high level. He is four short of Sam Snead's record for career wins. He is a month away from the next major, the U.S. Open at Merion, where he will be the heavy favorite again. Woods is motoring right along. But the ride is bumpy.