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Did network affect outcome of Colonial event for the betterment of all?

By Steve Elling | Senior Golf Columnist

ORLANDO, Fla. – In the broadest context, golf is a sport unlike any other.

In NFL, NBA and MLB games, there is one ball, a set of referees with every game, and to some degree, slow-motion replays to track and correct any perceived oversight.

At the PGA Tour event at Colonial Country Club on Sunday, there were 72 players, each with his own ball, playing a game with myriad rules that is policed largely with a centuries-old honor system.

Which brings us to the events of the 72nd hole, when eventual winner Zach Johnson committed an absent-minded rules violation that went seemingly unnoticed by everybody but CBS Sports broadcaster Peter Kostis, whose actions might have directly influenced the outcome of a million-dollar event.

So you be the referee: Is that a good or bad thing?

Johnson held a three-shot lead on the 18th when he re-marked a five-footer for par so his ball wasn't in the line of playing partner Jason Dufner. The trouble was, he forgot to replace the ball in its original position before he finished and was docked with a two-shot penalty, after Kostis noted the gaffe during the broadcast.

Not for the first time, the media's role in the administration of a sports event was called into question, though Kostis said he'd do the same thing again if faced with a similar situation.

“Half the people would ask, 'Why did you do that?'" Kostis said Monday morning. “The other half would be asking, ‘Why didn't you do something?'"

Aye, and he's exactly right.

Surrounded by a throng of perhaps 10,000 spectators -- including fans, media, PGA Tour staffers and Crowne Plaza tournament officials -- nobody but Kostis seemingly noted that Johnson had forgotten to put his ball back in the original position. Or at least, nobody but Kostis said anything aloud.

On the air, Kostis asked Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo -- parked in a network tower at the 18th -- whether Johnson had remarked his ball. By then, it was too late for Kostis to say anything to Johnson or caddie Damon Green directly. Amid the usual last-hole confusion, Kostis wasn't even 100 percent sure that Johnson had replaced the marker in the first place.

“I desperately wanted to scream out to Damon or Zach,” Kostis said. “But by then, he was almost over the ball already. The normal protocol is that when a player moves his coin, for the other player to ask if he replaced it. Jason Dufner did not do that. He blew it, I blew it, we all blew it.”

Maybe, maybe not. Should impartial media be policing the game or serving as observers who chronicle the result? Fair question.

Whether the PGA Tour rules officials became aware of the violation as a result of Kostis' comments on the air is unclear. But ultimately, Johnson was told of his gaffe by a tour official moments before he signed his card, saving himself from a possible disqualification for posting an incorrect score.

If tour officials watching in the scoring center learned of the violation from Kostis' comments during the broadcast, the network arguably affected the final outcome. All things considered, Kostis has no philosophical issue with that possibility.

The competitive spirit of the event was maintained, after all.

"I think that, at that point, I'm not sure I'm part of the media," he said. "If it had been closer and I'd not said something, I might have screwed Jason Dufner out of a chance at a playoff. I think I have an obligation to bring it to the attention of the rules officials, as a media member or a spectator.

"As long as people can call in from 4,000 miles away, I have no issue with somebody on site doing it [noting a possible violation]."

It makes for an interesting ethical discussion, at minimum. In golf, fans routinely are involved in the administration of penalties and sanctions, both in person and over the phone. There are only a handful of tour rules officials, scattered all over the course.

"I don't think you are exclusively a media person while you are out there," Kostis said. "I don't think wearing a media hat absolves you from your responsibility as far as the spirit of the competition."

Besides, in golf, it seems like everybody's a referee.

"I am not a fan of people being able to call in on the phone, when the result might be a penalty or a disqualification," Kostis said. "But as long as that's the rule, we have to play by it."

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