Australian Cameron Smith was penalized two strokes by US PGA Tour officials, dimming his chances of a victory at the St. Jude Championship to become world number one and putting a dent in his campaign to take out the $25m FedEx Cup playoffs.
World number two Smith started the final round in Memphis, Tennessee, four strokes off the pace instead of only two after the punishment was applied for improper ball placement.
Smith, who has deflected questions this week on reports he will jump to LIV Golf after the PGA playoffs, made the violation on the par-3 fourth hole in the third round at TPC Southwind.
Watch LIVE coverage from The USPGA Tour with Fox Sports on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
S1 — Will Zalatoris (-15)
T1 — Sepp Straka (-15)
S3 — Lucas Glover (-12)
S3—Brian Harman (-12)
S5—Trey Mullinax (-11)
S5—Matt Fitzpatrick (-11)
T5 — Tony Finau (-11)
S5—Andrew Putnam (-11)
S5—Adam Scott (-11)
S5—Colin Morikawa (-11)
S5—Jon Rahm (-11)
Gary Young of the PGA Tour rules staff said that Smith plunked his tee shot into the water on the hole and when he dropped the ball outside the penalty area, it rolled back and came to rest touching the red hazard marking line.
Rules committee members reviewed video replays of the hole and brought in Smith to talk about the infraction.
“At that point, he said yes, my ball was definitely touching the line,” Young said. “He wasn’t aware that no portion of the ball could be touching the line.
“You have to take complete relief from that area.”
The two-stroke punishment boosted Smith’s score from a three-under par 67 to a one-under 69 that left him on nine-under 201 through 54 holes, four adrift of 54-hole leader JJ Spaun.
“He felt it was OK to play it from there but unfortunately the rules say differently,” Young said.
“The rules give the player, as long as the player has shown reasonable judgment in determining whether or not his ball was in or out of the penalty area in this situation with his own naked eye, I thought it was simply going to be a situation where I asked Cam the question and he was going to tell him that he was comfortable that his ball was outside the penalty area.
“When I asked him the question, unfortunately, he said to me, ‘No, the ball was definitely touching the line’. So at that point there’s no turning back. That was a moment where I know that the player has knowledge that the ball was touching the line, he just simply didn’t understand the rule that it requires the entire ball to be outside of the penalty area and in his relief area. So that was the tough part.”
“He just said to me, ‘The rules are the rules.’ I just accepted it and left the office.”
Elsewhere, fellow Australian Adam Scott’s four-under-par 66 took up to the top of the leaderboard at 11 under midway through the final round.
Smith seeks his seventh career PGA title and his fourth of the year after the Tournament of Champions, the Players Championship and taking the Claret Jug last month at St. Andrews.
A victory would vault Smith over Masters champion Scottie Scheffler of the United States to the top of the world rankings for the first time in his career.
Smith said his game has not been affected by distractions this week such as numerous questions about his future and reports compatriot Cameron Percy said the Smith has already made a deal to join LIV Golf.
“My goal here is to win the FedExCup playoffs. That’s all I’m here for,” Smith said earlier this week. “If there’s something I need to say regarding the PGA Tour or LIV, it will come from Cameron Smith, not Cameron Percy.
“I’m a man of my word and whenever you guys need to know anything, it’ll be said by me.”