Washington—British Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia was penalized two strokes by US PGA Tour officials on Sunday, dimming his chances of a victory to become world number one.
World number two Smith started the final round at the St. Jude Championship 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 Saturday’s third round at TPC Southwind.
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 J.J. Spaun.
“He felt it was OK to play it from there but unfortunately the rules say differently,” Young said.
“He just said to me, ‘The rules are the rules.’ He just accepted it and left the office.”
Meanwhile, three-time major runner-up Will Zalatoris won his first US PGA Tour title, defeating Austria’s Sepp Straka in a playoff to capture the St. Jude Championship.
Zalatoris made a seven-foot bogey putt on the third extra hole to end a season of near misses that included second-place efforts at the US Open and PGA Championship.
Smith was seeking 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 have vaulted 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.”