Stacy Lewis believed her 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Saturday put her two strokes behind 54-hole leader Ai Miyazato heading into the final round of the LPGA Founders Cup. A review of the tape, however, found the six-time tour winner incurred a two-stroke penalty when her caddie tested the sand with his feet in a fairway bunker on the 16th hole.
Officials determined, after retreating to the TV trailer to assess slow-motion video of the incident, that Travis Wilson had pivoted his foot in the sand. Lewis, who said she could hear the sand crunch under Wilson's foot, let her looper off the hook.
"It looks like he's going in there to see how much sand is in there when that really wasn't what he was trying to do," Lewis told reporters after signing for a 4-under 68, which put her four back of Miyazato's 19-under tally and tied with Jee Young Lee in the runner-up spot. "More than anything I just feel bad for him because he feels awful, but he's the best caddie out here, so we'll be fine. We still have a chance to win tomorrow, so we'll be okay.”
Lewis contended she would put the error by the bagman behind her and focus on, what in her mind, was “a bogey-free 66 and that’s what I’m going to take home tonight.”
The penalty was a temporary blow for the 28-year-old American, who has her sights set on overtaking Yani Tseng for the No. 1 position in the world rankings. A win by third-ranked Lewis and a third-place finish or worse by Tseng would give the University of Arkansas grad the top spot Tseng has held for 109 consecutive weeks.
Lewis’ score came into question after a Golf Channel viewer alerted the LPGA that Wilson moved his foot in the bunker, a violation of rule 13-4. Wilson stepped down into the hazard after he and Lewis conferred about how much to dig her wedge into the surface, which broadcasters noted was particularly firm.
Saturday’s incident was hardly the first time that remote referees have had impacts on player's rounds. A TV viewer Ian Poulter called a "snitch" famously ratted Camilo Villegas out to the PGA Tour when the golfer moved some turf as his ball rolled down the bank toward him in the opening round of the 2011 Tournament of Champions.
Padraig Harrington fell victim to the same type of peculiarity unique to golf tournaments when a television watcher told European Tour officials that the Irish golfer had moved his ball illegally on a green during the first round of the 2011 Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
Prior to Saturday, the most recent situation on the LPGA cropped up in November at the Titleholders event, when Twitter users called out Yoo Sun-Young for taking an improper drop.
At the time, Golf Channel's Judy Rankin let her opinions be known about the practice of letting fans dictate the outcomes of tournaments.
"Players are exhausted by the -- how shall I say this -- all the people who are not in attendance who play a part in the game," Rankin said.
Broadcast partner Rich Lerner concurred
"They do not call it in baseball or in football," said Lerner, who was not excusing golfers from knowing the rules. "Others would argue, ‘wrong is wrong.'"
In Lewis’ case, she clearly was unaware of Wilson’s faux pas until she went to sign her scorecard.
“I didn't see Travis do anything when we were playing, I wasn't looking at his feet obviously,” Lewis said. “So we looked at the video and you have to slow it down, zoom in on his foot, he walks into the bunker, he kind of pushes ‑‑ he kind of bounces his knees a little bit and his foot turns.
“And that was kind of the big indicators that his foot turned and you could kind of hear the sand crunch a little bit,” she said. “So that's deemed to be testing the sand.”
Lewis could have been in for even greater punishment after she sculled her wedge shot from the sand and it flew the green. It hit something solid -- perhaps the grandstand -- and bounced back to pin-high just off the green. She escaped the hole with what she believed was a four for par.
Tseng, for her part, made the cut with one stroke to spare and ended her third round in a tie for 63rd. Na Yeon Choi, who also has a chance to surpass Tseng this week (with a win and a fourth-place or worse finish by Tseng) will enter Sunday’s final round tied for 40th -- 12 strokes back of Miyazato.