Australia’s Cameron Smith has been handed a two-stroke penalty by US PGA Tour officials that has dimmed his chances of winning the St. Jude Championship, making a major turnaround in his bid to become world number one and lift the $25m FedEx Cup playoff.
World number two Smith started the final round in Memphis, Tennessee, not just two but four strokes off the mark after a penalty for improper ball placement.
Smith, who this week fielded questions about reports that he would jump to LIV Golf after the PGA Playoffs, made his foul on the par-3 fourth hole of the third round at TPC Southwind.
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Final leader board
T1 – Will Zalatoris (-15)
T1 — Sep Straka (-15)
T3 — Lucas Glover (-12)
T3 – Brian Harman (-12)
T5 — Trey Mullinax (-11)
T5 – Matt Fitzpatrick (-11)
T5 — Tony Finau (-11)
T5 – Andrew Putnam (-11)
T5 – Adam Scott (-11)
T5 – Colin Morikawa (-11)
T5 — Jon Rahm (-11)
PGA Tour partner Gary Young Smith put his tee shot into the water on the hole and dropped the ball out of bounds, before it rolled back and landed touching the red hazard marker line.
Members of the rules committee reviewed the video replay of the hole and brought Smith in to talk about the infraction.
“At that point he said yes, my ball was definitely touching the line,” Young said. “He didn’t know any part of the ball would touch the line.
“You have to be completely relieved from that area.”
A two-stroke penalty boosted Smith’s three-under-par 67 to a one-under 69 that dropped him to 9-under 201 through 54 holes, four behind 54-hole leader JJ Spaun.
“Then he felt it was good to play, but unfortunately the rules say otherwise,” Young said.
“The rules give it to the player, as long as the player makes a reasonable judgment to see if the ball is in the penalty area or not, I thought it would be an easy situation. I asked Cam and he was going to say that he was comfortable with the ball being out of the penalty area.
“When I asked him the question, sadly, he said, ‘No, the ball was definitely touching the line.’ So there is no turning back at that point. That’s when the player knew the ball was touching the line, he simply didn’t understand the rule that required the ball to be completely outside the penalty area and inside the penalty area. So that was the hard part.
“He just said, ‘The rules are the rules.’ He simply accepted and left the office.
Elsewhere, fellow Australian Adam Scott added a four-under 66 to the leaderboard at the 11th hole midway through the final round.
Smith will be seeking his seventh career PGA title and fourth of the year from the Tournament of Champions, The Players Championship and the Claret Jug last month at St Andrews.
A win will lift Smith past Masters champion Scotty Scheffler of the United States to the top spot in the world rankings for the first time in his career.
Smith said his game has not been affected by the distractions this week and there are many questions about his future, with compatriot Cameron Percy reporting that Smith has already agreed a deal to join LIV Golf.
“My goal here is to win the FedExCup playoffs. That’s what I’m here for,” Smith said earlier this week. “If I have to say something about the PGA Tour or LIV, it’s coming from Cameron Smith, not Cameron Percy.
“I am a man of my word, and when you people want to know anything, it will be told by me.”