British Open champion Cameron Smith and his chase for No. 1 in the world got a little tougher even before he teed off Sunday in the FedEx St. Jude Championship.
The PGA Tour penalized Smith two shots upon learning his ball was still touching the red hazard line when he was taking a penalty drop on the par-3 fourth hole during the third round on Saturday.
Smith signed for a 67 and was two shots behind. A victory Sunday takes him to No. 1 in the world. With the penalty, his score was adjusted to a 69 and he started the final round four shots behind.
The penalty takes on heightened interest around Smith because of reports – which he has chosen to not discuss – that he will be the latest player to join Saudi-funded LIV Golf after the FedEx Cup playoffs.
It also frustrated those taking part in daily fantasy leagues. Smith, a three-time winner this year and No. 2 in the world, was the favourite going the final round at the TPC Southwind.
Gary Young, the chief referee for the PGA Tour, said Smith was apprised when officials took a closer look at the replay. The rules allow what a player sees to take precedence over a zoomed view from television. Smith told Young the ball was definitely touching the line.
The presumption is that Smith wasn’t aware that when taking a drop from a penalty area, the entire golf ball must be in play and not touching any part of the line.
Even though Smith said his ball was touching part of the line, the bad break was how it unfolded. The PGA Tour has a rules official watching the broadcast, but he determined it was not enough to raise any questions.
“Just knowing the awkwardness of camera angles and that he was dropping in a really tight area there at No. 4, the geometry of the whole situation – he’s got basically a sliver he’s dropping the ball in – we felt very comfortable at that time that he was familiar with the rule,” Young said. “And that it was such a quick view of it that we had, at that time we decided it wasn’t worth following up on.”
Young said another official working the tournament happened to be watching a rebroadcast Saturday night and they decided to take another look.
“The committee decided to look into it a little further,” he said.
That’s when they found Smith as he arrived to start warming up for the final round, asked him about the drop and had no choice but to penalize him.
“I thought it was simply going to be a situation where I asked Cam the question and he was going to (say) that he was comfortable that his ball was outside the penalty area,” Young said. “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.”