KAPALUA, Hawaii – Ryan Palmer chunked his chip shot on the par-5 ninth hole on Saturday at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and walked sideways in disgust as it caught the ridge in front of the elevated green and started to trundle back.
As the ball slowed down to a trickle some 10-feet away from him, he dragged one of his feet to kick some loose soil away – a reaction of anger more than anything else.
But the action caught the eye of PGA TOUR Rules Officials who needed to have a discussion with Palmer as it pertains to trying to improve a lie.
Rule 11-3 in golf states that 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.
But in Palmer’s case, the kick away was just fractionally ahead of the ball coming to a complete rest and was not in a space the ball would get to. Officials were ultimately comfortable Palmer had not intended to breach the rules.
“There was no intention of me trying to abuse the rule. There was no way, because that ball wasn’t even going to be close to where I was at,” Palmer said after signing for a bogey-free 9-under 64 in the third round.
“(Rules official John Munch) showed me the video and I looked at it and I go, what am I looking at? And it took me watching it twice to understand what he was talking about. In disgust, I kicked a divot, but the ball was five feet away from me where it ended up stopping… 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 (caddie) 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.”
Palmer moved to 21 under for the tournament on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, thanks in the main part to an incredible blitz of six birdies in his last seven holes. He shares the lead with one round to go with Harris English.
English was bogey-free for the second straight round and putted the dots off his ball – making over 126-feet of putts on Saturday during his 7-under 66. The blemish-free round was under threat on the final hole when he pulled his approach into the penalty area, but an eagle-eyed marshal found his ball in deep grass and English was able to hack it out and save par.
Both leaders are in the field via the one-off exemption for those who made the 2020 TOUR Championship – used to fill the field after a significant chunk of last season was lost to a COVID-19 pandemic break. Palmer last won as part of a duo with Jon Rahm in the 2019 Zurich Classic of New Orleans – his fourth TOUR win. English is a two-time winner but hasn’t lifted a trophy since the Mayakoba Golf Classic in the 2013-14 season.
“I’m extremely satisfied. Normally Saturday is my toughest day out here on the PGA TOUR, kind of a weird day of in between making the cut and finishing on Sunday and I felt like I played really well today, stuck to my strategy, executed really well and stayed patient,” English said.
“I know the scores are going to be low tomorrow. I don’t think the wind is going to be up very much. I know it’s going to take a good number tomorrow. I know it’s going to be tough to win. It’s always tough to win out here and just got to stay within yourself, stick with your strategy and execute, and I’m going to do all those things and come out tomorrow and give it all I have.
Ready to pounce just a shot behind is Collin Morikawa. The 23-year-old is already a three-time winner on TOUR. His second consecutive 8-under 65 helped him to a 20 under total. In perhaps a great omen for the Californian with some family ties to Hawaii the last time he had back-to-back rounds of 65 or better it was on his way to winning last season’s PGA Championship.
“(Winning here) would mean a lot,” he said. “Hopefully I can tell you come tomorrow but for now I’ve got 18 more holes and there’s a lot of guys that can make a lot of birdies and I’ve just got to be ready to come hole one.”