By BILL BROTHERTON

Golfers should be in the best of moods. CBS is providing exhaustive coverage of the self-important Masters golf championship this weekend. FOX-25 meteorologist/fox Shiri Spear predicts a rain-free four days, with temperatures in the 70s on Monday and Tuesday, delighting linksmen/women who are polishing their shoes and rescuing their clubs from the garage. Grass on some local courses is starting to turn green.

But golfers are grumpier than usual. All anyone is talking about is how the buffoons at the Ladies Professional Golf Association robbed Lexi Thompson of a championship last weekend.

To recap: At the ANA Inspiration tournament in California last Sunday, Thompson was assessed a 2-stroke penalty for improperly marking her ball the day before, then another 2 strokes for signing an incorrect scorecard. Thompson marked a 1-foot putt with a coin on the 17th green during her third round, but she replaced the ball one-half inch out of position.

The absurd part: A TV viewer alerted the LPGA by email. Not an official. A TV viewer. By email.

Even worse: Thompson had already played 12 holes of her final round when an LPGA rules official approached her on the course and informed her of the penalties, which erased a three-shot lead. She somehow qualified for a playoff, but lost on the first extra hole to So Yeon Ryu.

You might recall that Dustin Johnson was given a one-stroke penalty in last year’s US Open because some clown watching on TV pointed out that the world’s No. 1 player’s ball had moved on the fifth green before he putted. Johnson still won by two strokes.

And officials wonder why golf viewership is plummeting. The absence of Tiger Woods might have something to do with it, but boneheaded decisions like this certainly play a role. It seems everybody’s a referee now.

Woods immediately came to Thompson’s defense on Twitter. Tiger’s tweet: Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes.

Jack Nicklaus, Phil Michelson, Ricky Fowler … nearly every pro, male and female, rallied to Lexi’s defense, even though the video clearly shows she mismarked her ball. Once a scorecard is signed, that should be it.

Even LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said the controversial penalty had reduced him to tears. “It’s a great example of something that’s 100 percent right by the rules and feels 100 percent wrong on all functions,” said Whan.”The penalty in this case doesn’t fit the crime and it drives me crazy.”

NBC golf analyst Dan Hicks got in a hot lick: “Another embarrassing day for golf and rules which just don’t make any common sense.” And cohort Jimmy Roberts added “This whole rules debacle is so bad for golf. Just makes the establishment look like a bunch of over-officious fools.”

My take: the Russians are behind it. Remember, the email-sender has not been identified. An official CIA investigation will find that Vlad Putin was sitting in his Barcalounger, watching women’s golf and sipping his sixth Mikhail’s Hard Lemonade. For some reason, he was rooting against Lexi Thompson, who those of us who watched her at the 2010 Curtis Cup at Essex CC in Manchester-by-the-Sea know is a lovely young lady. Under the influence of the sickeningly sweet alcoholic beverage, he decided to cause trouble. He probably texted his Minister of Nastiness to hack into the LPGA site and cause trouble.

I bet Putin’s behind that April the Giraffe mess, too. Just wait, she’s not pregnant; she’s two months overdue for heaven’s sake. The webcam’s probably some twisted social experiment to see how long people will watch a “pregnant” giraffe. Eventually, viewers will turn away.

That will happen to professional golf, too, if dumb decisions like this continue.

Bill Brotherton is editor of North Shore Golf magazine. Reach him at bbrotherton@essexmediagroup.com.

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