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Golf coming to life again after winter of woes

Maybe it's the fact the temperature around here has finally nudged 50 degrees, the sun has come calling and you can almost see the blooming forsythia from here.

Or maybe it's seeing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson walking Torrey Pines while the Pacific Ocean glimmers in the distance.

It felt this week, for the first time this year, like golf is coming to life again.

That's not to suggest what Martin Kaymer did in Abu Dhabi last week or Jhonny Vegas did in Bob Hope's former playground didn't matter. It did, both for Kaymer's continuing dominance and Vegas' bringing the story of Venezuelan golf to light.

But until this week, golf had been held hostage by rules violations, busybody television viewers, a cheating scandal in Europe and the announcements by Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy that they plan to let the PGA Tour's Players Championship party go on without them in May.

It was a mid-winter cocktail of controversy with a dash of politics thrown in. It was relevant - especially if the spate of television-induced disqualifications leads to a rules change - but it wasn't as compelling as what the game itself can give us.

The good news is there now seems to be a consensus of opinion that disqualifying players for rules violations discovered after they've signed their card and had their dinner isn't fair, especially given the disproportionate amount of television time the stars get as compared to the Roland Thatchers of the world.

The players still need to know the rules, and if they mess them up, they should pay the price, as Elliot Saltman will after being found guilty of continually mismarking his ball in a European Tour event last year.

But going dimple by dimple in evaluating the inadvertent violation committed by Padraig Harrington two weeks ago helped expose the need to reevaluate what's happening.

In other words, use a little common sense.

Then again, we're talking about golf and its rules and rule makers, who treat the game's 34 rules like the Ten Commandments.

Speaking of common sense, it seems to have gone missing in the situation that will keep Westwood from both The Players Championship and the Wells Fargo Championship here. He's limited to 10 PGA Tour events because he's not a Tour member - 11 if he includes The Players because it gets special treatment - but he can't add Quail Hollow without cutting something else out of U.S. schedule. So he's missing both.

Who wins when the best players in the world can't play the top events? If you're ranked in the top 10 in the world, you should be able to play when and where you want. It's not my idea, but it's a good one.

There's all this talk about growing the game and boosting television ratings (though PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is doing his best to downplay ratings now) but there seem to be unnecessary barriers.

Then you see Torrey Pines on television and a leader board with familiar names. You catch a glimpse of Sergio Garcia playing well in Bahrain. You sneak in 18 holes this weekend, knowing it might not be golf weather again around here for a while.

In the bar, you talk about the 7-iron shot you stung from the mud or watch as Tiger settles in over a 20-footer. You wonder if this is the year Anthony Kim wins a major and smile when you hear Amy Mickelson walked 18 holes watching her husband on Thursday.

The Masters is just 10 weeks away.

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