Penalty could cost Lewis LPGA top ranking

Mark Brown,The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- It may have been unintentional, but it was costly.
Not only could a penalty cost Stacy Lewis the championship of the R. R. Donnelley Founders Cup, the current stop on the LPGA tour, but possibly the No. 1 ranking in the world.
With a blistering 66 Saturday, Lewis climbed to within two shots of leader Ai Miyazato after three rounds. Should Lewis capture this title, she could emerge as the top female golfer in the world, but the designation is currently on hold.
That's because she was assessed a two-stroke penalty on the 16 hole. That chopped two vital strokes from her score and left the former University of Arkansas all-American scrambling for answers.
When her third shot on the par-four 16th landed in the bunker, Lewis' caddy Travis Wilson jumped into the sand pit to test the surface. Lewis said his foot accidentally impacted the surface and after deliberating for more than an hour, LPGA officials sliced two strokes from Lewis' score.
"I didn't see Travis do anything," Lewis said. "His foot turned and the sand crunched. This was a ruling on intent and our purpose was to see how much sand was in the bunker."
In the 4 1/2 years that Wilson caddied for Lewis, no penalty has been assessed. Still, Lewis discounts that the specter of the penalty will not influence her play in Sunday's final round.
"I feel so bad for him, and he's taking it hard," Lewis said. "In my mind, I shot a 66 and that's what I'll take home. Everyone makes mistakes. We'll be fine and move forward."
The two stroke penalty leaves Lewis four shots behind Miyazato, who fired a steady 67 behind her opening round 63 and 67 on Friday.
Lewis responded with a bogey-free 66 Saturday on top of her two previous rounds of 68 and 65.
Despite Lewis' strong third round, Miyazato said she feels little pressure and has a simple game plan.
"I'm going out, having fun and focus on my game," said the 27 year-old native of Okinawa, Japan. "(On Saturday), I felt comfortable with my putting and really didn't hit a bad shot. I'll go out (Sunday) relaxed and transfer my energy to the next round."
If Lewis is to challenge for the Donnelley title, she will have to play another bogey-free round. That because 21 players entering Sunday's round stand at double-digit under par.
After three rounds, Miyazato leads with 19 under and Lewis and Jee Young Lee are four back at 15 under. Three players are tied at 13 under, including includes Angela Stafford, Lizette Salas, Anna Nordqvist, who played locally at Arizona State University, and Gerina Pillar.
Despite the penalty, Lewis indicated her low score Saturday can carry over to the final round.
"I think I missed only one green (Saturday)," she said. "This golf course is all about wedges and how close you can hit them. I certainly gave myself an opportunity to shoot 8 under (Saturday), but it just did not happen."
Should Miyazato hold on, she would capture her 10th tour victory, and the first since last July when she took the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. That event netted the native of Okinawa, Japan, $300,000 in winnings.
Before the Phoenix stop, Lewis was ranked third in the world and Miyazato was ninth.
NOTES:The Phoenix stop on the LPGA tour represents a $1.5 million purse. The highest purse in the United States is $2.225 million, the LPGA Championship in Pittsford, N.Y. The biggest money stop on the tour is the Evian Championship in Evian-les-Baines, France ($3.250,000) this September. ... The LPGA Tour continues next week with the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif., and a $1.7 million purse.

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