The British Open champion and one of the hottest young players on the tour, Smith had already sparked a lot of talk last week when the Telegraph reported he had agreed to a $100million deal to become the latest big name to defecting to rival series LIV Golf. The Saudi-funded upstart doesn’t have another event scheduled right after the conclusion of the three-event FedEx Cup playoffs on the PGA Tour, of which the St. Jude Championship was the start. At least in theory, if Smith won the $18 million check that goes to the winner of the playoffs, he could consider it a huge parting gift before officially joining LIV.
If nothing else, if the 28-year-old Smith had won the St. Jude Championship, he would have risen to No. 1 in the world rankings. As it happens, his 13th-place finish still positions him well to emerge in two weeks with the biggest single payout on the PGA Tour, although that pursuit took a hit on Monday. when the tour was announced that Smith was withdrawing from this week’s BMW Championship due to “hip discomfort,” according to an accompanying statement from his agent.
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The LIV speculation surrounding Smith served as a hard-to-ignore backdrop to the news that he was docked twice on Sunday. Some observers interrogates the timing, given that it took nearly a full day for tour officials to review the incident and render a decision which, as it was Noted in betting circles, drastically changed his chances of winning.
The streak began Saturday on the par-3 fourth hole of Memphis’ TPC Southwind when Smith hit his tee shot into the water. He took a drop, but a day later officials determined that the ball he then chipped onto the green had come to rest illegally on the red line that marked the penalty area near the water.
PGA Tour umpire-in-chief Gary Young explained on Sunday that his staff noticed at the time that Smith was playing a ball “awfully close” to the line but initially gave him the benefit of the doubt that he would not have kicked the ball had he, in fact, been in an illegal position.
After a “second look” on Sunday, Young said he decided “it was worth asking” Smith about it.
“I thought it would just be a situation where I would ask [Smith] the question and he was going to tell me he was comfortable with his ball being outside the penalty area,” Young said. “When I asked him, unfortunately he said: ‘No, the ball was definitely touching the line. So at that point there is no going back.
“He was unaware,” Young said of Smith on NBC Sports, “that no part of the ball could touch the penalty area line. … Cam is a real gentleman, and he took it like that. He was completely calm throughout the process, and once he found out it was a two-stroke penalty, he just said to me, ‘The rules are the rules. .”
Smith, who was reportedly heckled as a “sell” during St. Jude, did not make himself available to the media after shooting a 70 in Sunday’s round. He started the tournament with rounds of 67 and 65, and signed for another 67 on Saturday before the penalty changed it to 69.
When the PGA Tour posted a tweet showing Young’s explanation on NBC Sports, golfer LIV Lee Westwood responded by suggesting the tour was not subtle in an effort to reduce Smith’s chances of victory.
“Surely not,” tweeted Westwood, a 49-year-old Englishman who was among those suspended by the PGA Tour in June for attending LIV’s inaugural event. “Too obvious!”
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There weren’t three players in St. Jude’s field — Talor Gooch, Matt Jones and Hudson Swafford — who had racked up enough FedEx Cup points to qualify for the playoffs before moving to LIV earlier this summer. On Tuesday, a federal judge denied their request for a temporary restraining order that would have replaced the PGA Tour’s suspension and allowed them to play in the three-tournament playoffs. However, an antitrust lawsuit is still pending against the tour by this trio and eight other banned LIV golfers.
Before the start of the Memphis tournament last week, several notable PGA Tour players slammed their former colleagues for taking legal action after accepting huge Saudi-backed sums to play elsewhere. Among them was Scottie Scheffler, the highest-ranked player in the world who, at the time, was also No. 1 in the FedEx Cup points race.
“It’s one of those deals where these guys kind of made the decision to go and join another tour,” Scheffler, 26, told reporters on Tuesday, “and they broke the rules and regulations of our tour, and now they’re trying to sue us, which is definitely a little frustrating.
Scheffler and Smith were paired up in the first round on Thursday, and the former raised his eyebrows when footage circulated of him walking directly past Smith as the latter tried to field a putt. Smith then looked up at the passing Scheffler and held that gaze for a moment, as online observers wondered if the minor violation of golf etiquette had anything to do with the Smith and LIV rumors. . Scheffler would later deny any ill intentions, saying he was too focused on his game to realize where his path on the green was leading him, and Smith was reportedly comfortable joking with him about it.
Scheffler, whose stellar year on the tour has included a Masters triumph and three other victories, missed the cup at St. Jude but had built such a lead in the FedEx Cup points race that he is only fell only to second place after Sunday. Zalatoris, who beat Sepp Straka over a tense three-hole playoff for his first PGA Tour victory, is first and Smith is third.
Smith has been linked with LIV since at least the British Open last month, when he was asked about it during his press conference after the win. After initially expressing his displeasure that the question arose immediately after his biggest moment, Smith said, “I don’t know, mate. My team around me is worried about all this. I’m here to win golf tournaments.
When the subject of a potential move to LIV was brought up again this week in a pre-tournament media session, Smith was once again hesitant.
“My goal here is to win the FedEx Cup playoffs,” Smith told reporters in Memphis. “That’s all I’m here for.”