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Same story, new year. One day into the 2011 PGA Tour season, and we're picking up right where we left off in '10: with a controversial rules violation that has left Camilo Villegas disqualified from the season's first tournament.

Here's the story: Villegas had just hit his second straight approach shot on the par-5 15th when the ball, which failed to crest the hill to the green, came back toward him. And then observe what happened:

See that? He flipped a little piece of debris out of the way as the ball was rolling back downhill. As Geoff Shackelford notes, that's a pretty clear violation of Rule 23-1, "When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed," as well as 13-2, "A player must not improve or allow to be improved the position or lie of his ball ... [by] pressing a club on the ground [and so on] ... "

Seemed a pretty clear violation, right? And unlike some rules, you can understand the purpose of this one. If the ball had rolled up against an impediment, that's a tougher shot; Villegas was, in theory, making it easier for him to take his next shot. It should have been a two-stroke penalty, but amazingly, apparently nobody at the tournament site or from the PGA Tour noticed the violation.

[Rewind: Rules violation costs golfer a shot at major title]

Still, it could have ended there, were it not for the other fascinating aspect of this story -- the role social media played in fanning the flames.    

Writer Dave Andrews, among others, noticed the violation and reported it to the tour and the Golf Channel, and from there, it became a Very Big Story. The reason, you see, is that if Villegas didn't take the requisite two-stroke penalty, he thus signed an incorrect scorecard ... which gets you disqualified. And that's exactly what happened.

There's a long history of golf viewers having a direct impact on competition by serving as another pair of eyes. In 1987, Craig Stadler was booted from a tournament after a viewer called to complain that Stadler's use of a towel to protect his knees while kneeling for a particularly awkward shot was an illegal construction of a stance; he'd finished second in the tournament but got nothing. And in 1991 at the Doral Ryder Open, a viewer ratted out Paul Azinger for moving a loose stone as he took a stance to hit a ball out of shallow water; moving loose impediments in a hazard is illegal, and Azinger got yanked from the tournament. And in 2010, a viewer called in to charge that Juli Inkster should not have been using a training aid during the Safeway Classic, and the LPGA later disqualified her.

In this case, the PGA Tour reviewed the tape and rendered its decision on Friday. "It was pretty obvious what happened," Slugger White, the PGA TOUR’s vice president of rules and competition, said afterward on the tour's website. "I waited for Camilo to get here this morning. The first thing he said was, ‘Am I gone?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, but I’d like you to look at the tape. He said he’d like to look at the tape. He came over and saw it and knew right away."

Kind of a rough way to celebrate one's birthday; Villegas turned 29 Friday. Still, two questions persist: 1. Should fans have the right to influence the play on the course, and 2. Should Villegas be DQ'd after the fact?

[Video: NBA star's odd end-of-game blunder]

More to the point: If we're going to have a nation of millions second-guessing every move by the pros, doesn't that unfairly penalize the players who are on TV most often, and thus under more scrutiny? And, as CBS's Steve Elling suggests, why not have a dedicated rules official watching the TV, a time limit for levying penalties, or both?

Clearly, slapping at the debris was a violation, and both Villegas and his caddy should have known better. But is this an appropriate application of the rules, or yet another case where golf is using a sledgehammer to deal with a gnat?


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