A contentious year in golf

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DUBLIN, OHIO (AP) - Ernie Els flashed that easy smile when he saw a reporter walking toward the clubhouse at the TPC Sawgrass earlier this month.

“This must be great for you guys,” he said through his laughter. “Come out to the PGA Tour and every week they hand you another story.”

And he wasn’t talking about Adam Scott winning the Masters.

The debate over anchored strokes and long putters. Deer antler spray. Rule 33-7. A player cleared of an anti-doping violation on a technicality, and then suing his own tour. Players hiring an attorney over a new rule related to the long putter.

And this was before the public spat between Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods took an ugly turn that brought overtures of racism back into golf.

“It’s been quite a controversial year for golf,” Lee Westwood said.

Woods already has won four times on the PGA Tour going into the Memorial, a tournament he already has won five times in his career. So when someone asked Westwood on Tuesday if there was a sense that the No. 1 player was on the verge of going on a big run, Westwood looked mildly perplexed.

“I think he’s on one, isn’t he?” Westwood said. “How many tournaments has he played this year? He’s won more than 50 percent.”

But any talk of Woods is sure to include the illegal drop he took at the Masters, the two-shot penalty he received the next day, the incorrect scorecard with his signature on it and Augusta National invoking Rule 33-7, which gave it discretion to disregard the penalty of disqualification for the incorrect scorecard.

That debate lost steam when Vijay Singh sued the tour the day before The Players Championship began at TPC Sawgrass, where the Fijian spent years honing a game that brought him nearly $70 million in earnings and a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Lawsuits against the tour are rare, but the details of this one were bizarre.

“Nobody has ever sued the tour for being cleared of getting a drug violation,” Padraig Harrington said.

WADA warned against deer antler spray. Vijay Singh used deer antler spray. The tour proposed a six-month suspension. Singh appealed. WADA said deer antler spray was no longer the same concern. Singh was off the hook. And then Singh sued the tour.

The good news for PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was the lawsuit was largely forgotten three days later. The bad news for the tour was why it was forgotten.

Singh vs. PGA Tour felt like an undercard compared with Garcia vs. Woods.

The Spaniard threw a sucker punch during a rain delay by suggesting Woods was the cause of a commotion in their final group of the third round. Woods fired back by calling out Garcia for his constant complaining, which led Garcia to say Woods wasn’t the nicest guy on tour. And with no interest by either side in a truce, Garcia tried to make a joke about having Woods over for fried chicken, and he wound up with egg on his face.

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