Sunday, May 20, 2018

Lexi Thompson loses LPGA major after controversial penalties

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — So Yeon Ryu won the ANA Inspiration on Sunday in a one-hole playoff with Lexi Thompson, who was penalized four strokes late in the final round of the LPGA Tour major for an incorrect ball placement and signing an incorrect scorecard a day earlier.

Ryu birdied the 18th hole in the playoff to win her second major title, but her celebration was muted because of the bizarre circumstances.

Thompson, the third-round leader, had a three-shot lead in the final round and appeared to be cruising to her second major championship when tour rules officials informed her of the penalty with six holes to play.

An email from a TV viewer during the final round alerted officials to the violation committed Saturday. The tour confirmed it with a video review. Thompson had marked a 1-foot putt with a coin on the 17th green during her third round, but she replaced the ball perhaps 1 inch out of position. Rules require the ball to be replaced in the exact same spot.

Thompson was penalized two strokes for an incorrect ball placement and two strokes for signing at scorecard that didn't include the placement penalty.

If golf officials hadn't made a rule change last year, Thompson would have been disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Now, because her incorrect score resulted from a failure to include a penalty she wasn't aware of, she wasn't disqualified.

"It's unfortunate what happened," Thompson said. "I did not mean that at all. I didn't realize I did that. I felt strong through the finish, and it was great to see the fans behind me."

Thompson was visibly shaken when the ruling dropped her from 16 under to 12 under and one shot off the lead. But she birdied the 13th hole and battled back into a five-way tie for the lead, making three birdies and a bogey on the final six holes of regulation at Mission Hills Country Club.

Ryu birdied 18 to move in front. Thompson crushed her approach shot on 18 several minutes later. With emotions visible on her face amid loud chants of her name, Thompson gathered herself but left a 15-foot winning eagle putt about an inch short.

Thompson finished with 5-under 67 and Ryu 68 for 14-under 274.

"I just cannot believe the situation," said Ryu, who also won the 2011 U.S. Women's Open. "I thought Lexi played really, really well. I didn't expect what happened to Lexi. It's a very unfortunate situation. … I thought I'm well behind, so all I wanted to do was play my game."

But this event will be remembered for the sight of LPGA rules official Sue Witters explaining the penalty to Thompson while she walked to the 13th tee.

"Is this a joke?" Thompson asked Witters.

Assured it wasn't, she responded: "This is ridiculous."

Witters said "it made me sick" to have to penalize Thompson in this situation but "I can't go to bed (Sunday) knowing I let a rule slide."

Golf fans on the course and the Internet erupted with outrage when the LPGA's decision became understood. Tiger Woods immediately came to Thompson's defense on Twitter. "Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes," he wrote.

PGA: Russell Henley shot 7-under 65 for a three-shot victory in the Houston Open at 20-under 268 in Humble, Texas. The win got him a spot in this week's Masters. Third-round leader Sung Kang (72) was second.

Champions: Miguel Angel Jimenez won the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic for the second straight year, beating Gene Sauers on the first playoff hole with an 18-foot birdie putt in Biloxi. Jimenez shot 2-under 70 in the final round and Sauers, the third-round leader, 71 to finish regulation at 13-under 203.