GULLANE, Scotland (AP) – Hideki Matsuyama became the second player this year to get a one-shot penalty for the slow play in a major.
It nearly cost Guan Tianlang a weekend at the Masters. It was far more costly to Matsuyama on Saturday in the British Open, where he was only three shots out of the lead when he was assessed the penalty on the 17th hole at Muirfield.
His par turned into a bogey, and the 21-year-old Japanese star made a bogey on the 18th for a 1-over 72. Matsuyama was at 3-over 216, six shots behind going into the final round.
The Royal & Ancient said Matsuyama and Johnson Wagner were 15 minutes behind schedule and out of position on the golf course, meaning they were being timed. Matsuyama took more than a minute on a putt at the 15th hole for a warning. The R&A said he took two minutes, 12 second to play his second shot out of deep grass on the 17th, leading to the penalty.
Wagner said he supports penalties for slow play – just not in this case.
“Given his position in the tournament, and given the shot he faced on 17 – laying it up out of the fescue over the gorse and pot bunkers – I don't think he took too long,'' said Wagner, who had a 73. “I think he executed a really good shot and under the situation, I think it's tragic. And I think the R&A should use better judgment.''
Guan, the 14-year-old from China, also was given two bad times in the second round of the Masters and assessed a one-shot penalty. He still became the youngest player to make the cut in a major.
David Rickman, the R&A's rules director, said the official with the group gave Matsuyama ample time to cope with the difficulty of the shot. He said Matsuyama walked forward to look at the shot he needed to play, and then back to his ball.
“The timing official allowed all of that to happen before the watch was started,'' Rickman said. “So we feel that we were appropriately liberal with the starting of the timing procedure. … So in the circumstances I confirmed to both players that I could see no reason to waive that bad time.''
Slow play has been criticized so much over the years that the U.S. Golf Association launched a campaign last month, including a series of commercials with the theme, “While We're Young'' from the movie “Caddyshack.'' The two slow-play penalties in the majors this year have been assessed to players who were 14 and 21.
Matsuyama already has three wins on the Japan Golf Tour – one of them as an amateur – and at No. 44 is the highest-ranked player from Japan. He played the first two days with Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson and opened with rounds of 71-73. He ran off three straight birdies around the turn as he climbed up the leaderboard, and despite a pair of bogeys, was still within range.
The penalty didn't help.
Wagner said he argued on behalf of Matsuyama in the scoring trailer to no avail. Wagner said if it he had received the penalty, “I'd have gone ballistic.''
“They said they gave him extra time,'' Wagner said. “But his caddie had to pace all the way to the fairway, 100 yards to get his carry number. I'm as against slow play as anybody, and I respect everything everybody is doing. But man, the kid was playing great today … and I think it's terrible that he got penalized.''
Rickman said he did not believe communications was a problem. He said the chairman of the Japan Golf Tour's rules committee walked with the group as an observer and acted as an interpreter.
“I can confirm that the player was fully aware of the circumstances that he was in,'' Rickman said.