|ANA Inspiration final leaderboard|
|-14 Ryu So Yeon (Kor), -14 L Thompson (US); -13 M Lee (Aus), -13 Inbee Park (Kor), S Pettersen (Nor); -11 Wie (US); -10 C Kerr (US)|
|Selected others:-7 L Ko (NZ); -5 C Hull (Eng); +6 M Reed (Eng)|
American Lexi Thompson was left in tears after being handed a four-stroke penalty while leading the final round of the first major of the season – and then losing a play-off to So Yeon Ryu.
She incorrectly replaced a marked ball in Saturday’s third round – a TV viewer spotted the offence and told officials.
Thompson was leading the ANA Inspiration by two shots when told of the penalty after her 12th hole.
She birdied the 18th to force a play-off which Ryu won at the first hole.
Thompson, 22, had missed a 20-foot eagle putt on the last that would have given her a sensational victory.
- LPGA had power to ignore television viewer – former Europe Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher on BBC Radio 4
What did Thompson do?
Thompson appeared to put a marker at the side of her ball on the 17th green before lifting it and replacing in front of the marker prior to a putt of less than two feet.
The LPGA said she “breached Rule 20-7c (Playing From Wrong Place), and received a two-stroke penalty. She incurred an additional two-stroke penalty under Rule 6-6d for returning an incorrect scorecard in round three.”
Her five-under-par third-round 67 was changed to a 71.
“Is this a joke?” Thompson said after being informed by a rules official, before making birdies on three of the last six holes to force the play-off.
“It is unfortunate with what happened, I did not mean that at all, I had no idea that I did it,” Thompson later told the Golf Channel.
“I had to regroup myself, my caddie helped me out tremendously, we have a great relationship. I tried to gather myself and I made a great putt at 13.
“But it’s all to the fans, they helped me get through the rest of the round and I thank them a lot.
“I learned a lot about myself and how much I have in me. I wasn’t expecting what happened today to happen and I will learn from it.”
South Korean Ryu was the beneficiary as she claimed a second major title after making a four in the play-off, but admitted her win did not feel right.
“I cannot believe the situation. I didn’t even check the leaderboard, Lexi was playing so well. I didn’t expect it,” she said.
“It hurts me as well, it is a weird feeling but at the same time I am proud of myself.”
LPGA defends actions
The LPGA said in a statement: “On Sunday afternoon, the LPGA received an email from a television viewer that Lexi Thompson did not properly replace her ball prior to putting out on the 17th hole during Saturday’s third round of the ANA Inspiration.
“She was immediately notified of the breach by LPGA Rules Committee in between holes 12 and 13 of the final round.”
And LPGA Tour rules official Sue Witters, who had to break the news to a stunned Thompson, said she understood the outrage of fans but insisted no other option was available.
“What’s my choice?” she said. “A violation in the rules and then it would be the opposite story: Oh, they knew, why didn’t they do anything about it.
“I can’t go to bed tonight knowing that I let a rule slide. You know, it’s a hard thing to do, and it made me sick to be honest with you.”
However, Bernard Gallacher, former captain of the Europe Ryder Cup team, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “the LPGA had the power to dismiss that person (the TV viewer), they should have completely ignored it”.
How the final round unfolded
Thompson was two shots clear of playing partner Suzann Pettersen on 16 under following the 12th hole – and was charging towards her second major championship.
She immediately dropped from 16 under to 12 under following the penalty ruling, but recovered from her tears on the 13th tee, to hole a 20ft birdie putt to move back into a share of the lead after Pettersen, bogeyed the hole.
Thompson continued to battle back and made birdie at the 15th to take a one-stroke lead with three-holes to play.
But she bogeyed the 16th as Ryu took the clubhouse lead at four under, with a birdie on 18 to card a bogey-free four-under-par 68.
Thompson arrived at the 18th hole one-stroke behind Ryu, needing eagle to win but her putt stopped inches from the hole and she tapped in for a 67.
Ryu then birdied the first play-off hole, the 18th, to complete her second major victory.
Norway’s Pettersen signed for a 70 to finish in a three-way tie for third with Australia’s Minjee Lee and Inbee Park of South Korea, who both shot three-under 69s.
American Michelle Wie also carded a 69 to finish sixth on 11 under, while New Zealand’s world number one Lydia Ko was tied 11th on seven under.
England’s Charley Hull closed with a level-par 72 for five under and compatriot Mel Reed’s four-over 76 saw her finish on six over.
Golf’s complex rules
Golf is no stranger to controversy surrounding its rules.
At the 2016 US Open, eventual winner Dustin Johnson was forced to play his last seven holes knowing he had to review a possible rules infringement after the round.
Standing over his ball on the fifth green, Johnson made two practice putts. But as he prepared to address the ball to take his putt, it moved slightly.
The American was handed a one-shot penalty for making his ball move, despite being initially absolved of wrongdoing.
But unlike Thompson, he went on to claim his first major finishing three shots ahead of the field.
And Johnson also fell foul of the rules in 2010 when he missed out on a US Open play-off as a result of a violation.
Leading by one, Johnson was docked two shots for grounding his club in sand on the 18th hole. He thought it was wasteland but it was deemed to be a bunker.