Justin Rose started the third round at The Players Championship in a tie for fourth place. He walked off the 18th green one shot better than he started, at 7-under, and in a tie for 8th place. He'll start his fourth round, however, at 5-under, seven shots off the pace and with little hope of catching Martin Kaymer and Jordan Spieth.
UPDATE! Citing a new rule, the PGA Tour rescinded the two-shot penalty Sunday morning just before Rose teed off. An explanation on their change of course below.
It was not a particularly fun march for Rose on Sunday, but it got worse after his round when he was called into a meeting with rules officials to discuss the possibility that his ball moved before he hit a chip shot onto the 18th green. The defending U.S. Open champion put his ball on the back fringe, just overshooting the deep Saturday pin placement. He went to address it in what he lated called a "spongy" and "thatchy" area, and then backed off thinking he'd seen his ball move. After taking several moments to play it back through his head, calling in Sergio Garcia for a quick consult, and then both looking over at a large video board playing the replay, Rose went ahead and hit the ball.
Complete Players Coverage
Rose wouldn't sign his scorecard for almost another hour, however, as he and a cadre of rules officials looked over multiple replays in four different TV trucks. As Brian Wacker of PGATour.com notes, there was even a call from abroad from a Euro Tour rules man who wanted to offer his input (which may have been the deciding factor). If it moved, it certainly didn't look like much, and given the time and caution that both Rose and Garcia took to consider the possibility, it seemed like we were just dealing with another quick oscillation. Here's a replay of the moment, with a zoomed in angle from Golf Channel/NBC:
Rose was carted away to the production trucks, and we waited and waited for an official ruling. It finally came down that, indeed, the ball was deemed to have moved and not oscillated back to its original position. There was absolutely no advantage gained from the millimeter movement, but Rose was docked a stroke for the slight jolt and then another for not replacing the ball to its original position (Rule 18-2B). Here's what Rose was thinking at the time, which will leave your head spinning (via PGATour.com):
"I could still argue that the whole surface is what you're seeing move the ball and did it return it or not return it? You try to make the right call in the moment. I don't think my ball moved, but at the end of the day it either moved or didn't move and you make that call yourself and it's hard. It was abnormal ground surface and I really felt the ball went down and up. At the time you think it didn't move and I've actually seen a replay to confirm my ball didn't move, so I was very happy not to call a rules official because I felt I had done everything right."
Uh, got that?
He didn't sound totally convinced, but also admitted that it moved, while also sounding incredulous about the whole thing -- it was just a confusing mess: (via ASAPSports)
But under 50 times magnification in the truck maybe the ball moved a quarter of a dimple toward the toe of the club, which, obviously, if the ball moved, it moved and I get assessed an extra stroke penalty. Whereas, if, in the moment, I would have called the rules official, I would have only been assessed one stroke by moving it back.
The debate instantly prompted references to last year's Tiger Woods rules drama, specifically in the fall at the BMW Championship. That's when a camera caught Tiger in the trees at Conway Farms, removing loose impediments and standing over a ball that appeared to move. Woods said he thought it oscillated on the uneven surface in the woods, but rules officials disagreed, leaving the world No. 1 furious.
Tiger stormed out of the rules trailer following that disagreement, declining to talk to the media and refusing to admit to the penalty assessed. That didn't stop Johnny Miller from stating, "This one will raise a few more eyebrows among the players, that's all I'm gonna say."
Rose wasn't exactly the favorite without the two-stroke penalty, but he at least had a chance after an adventurous day which at one point included using the wrong clubs in the wrong way at the 11th hole. Now he's outside the top 10 at 5-under, and while scoring conditions are expected to be good, there's no chance he chases down Spieth and Kaymer who start eight shots ahead.
The Players Championship
The Players Championship
UPDATE: After all that, just before Rose teed off on Sunday, the PGA Tour rescinded the two-shot penalty to put Rose back to 7-under at the start of his final round. It's another ridiculous rules twist.
The Tour relied on a new rule, 18/4, also known as the "Tiger Woods rule" because it was added largely in response to the aforementioned issue at the BMW Championship. Here's a portion of the PGA Tour's statement:
Overnight, given the fact that Decision 18/4 had been implemented in January of 2014, yet had not been utilized in PGA TOUR competition, the Rules Committee reopened the incident and focused on how much the use of sophisticated technology played a part in making the original ruling. After that review, it was determined that the only way to confirm whether and how much the ball had in fact changed position, was to utilize sophisticated technology.
This morning, after consulting with the governing bodies and PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem, it was determined that without the use of sophisticated technology, it was not reasonably discernable to the naked eye that the ball had left its original position and had come to rest in its original place
You can read their full statement here.
Rose stayed in his original tee time for what was thought to be a 5-under score after the final decision came down to the wire Sunday. He's made a move to get to 9-under and is in second place as he approaches the turn. If he's able to chase down the leaders at 12-under and win, we'll have a messy debate for weeks.