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As Ryan Palmer approached scoring with a smile of satisfaction on his face, he was greeted by PGA Tour rules official John Mutch, who wasn’t there to congratulate Palmer on his scintillating third-round 9-under 64 and share of the 54-hole lead at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
Mutch was there to talk about a possible rule’s violation.
“I saw Mutch with the book out and I thought, ‘What’s this about?’ I started going through the round in my mind. And then when he said, We have a situation on 9, and I immediately was, like, ‘Let’s see, I hit a good 3-wood, fluffed a chip, told (caddie) James I hit the wrong club, and then went to where I was ended up chipping again, I still had no idea,” Palmer said.
The moment in question happened at the par-5 ninth hole, where Palmer was just short of the green in two before flubbing his pitch shot. As the ball began rolling back towards him, Palmer walked towards the ball and kicked a divot before his ball came to a stop. Mutch spoke with Palmer to discuss a possible violation of Rule 11-3: “While a ball is in motion, you must not deliberately alter physical conditions or lift or move a loose impediment or movable obstruction to affect where the ball might come to rest.”
After a discussion with Palmer, who went on to make a par on the hole, Mutch determined that there was no intent and so Palmer’s 64 stands.
“He showed me the video and I said, ‘What am I looking at?’ We had to watch it twice to understand what he was talking about and discuss that I kicked a divot but the ball stopped 5 feet away from me,” Palmer said. “There was no intention of me trying to help my ball because there was no way my ball was even close to where I was at. I was just discussing with James, I hit the wrong wedge on the chip shot, in disgust, and then when I got there, I just kind of did the old kick the divot, pissed-off motion and the ball stopped five feet away from me.”
Palmer said that Collin Morikawa watched the video too, and he agreed that there was violation. But Justin Leonard, a 12-time PGA Tour winner and an analyst for the Golf Channel this week in the 18th-hole tower, didn’t exactly jump to Palmer’s defense in what clearly is a gray area that the USGA allowed in the Rules of Golf during its last revisions when it allowed for “intent.”
“It could be construed either way,” he said. “You have to take Ryan Palmer for his word.”
Palmer enters Sunday’s final round tied with Harris English at 21-under 201. Palmer will be seeking his fifth PGA Tour victory and first individual title since winning the 2010 Sony Open of Hawaii.