ATLANTA – Just feet from where Justin Thomas was giving his post-round interview at East Lake, Dustin Johnson walked by with a curious glance.
It was a moment Johnson could empathize with.
Thomas was penalized a stroke when his ball moved while he prepared to putt on the 11th green on Friday. It was the same infraction (Rule 18-2) that cost Johnson a stroke – but not the title – at the U.S. Open in June.
And Thomas’ reaction was similar to Johnson’s at Oakmont.
“It's nothing against the rules officials. It's a God-awful rule,” said Thomas, who didn’t think he did anything to cause his ball to move. “It's on a severe slope, and it's down grain. When you get on greens like this or poa annua, these have a lot of grain, you get on that severe of a slope, the ball moves sometimes.”
Thomas, who made a double-bogey 5 on the hole on his way to a 1-over 71, initially was told by a rules official that there was no violation, but after reviewing the footage officials decided to penalize him.
“The ball was at rest on the putting surface,” said Mark Russell, the vice president of Tour rules and competitions. “There were light winds today. It had been at rest for quite some time and the moment that Justin put his club behind the ball and addressed the ball, the ball moved. In that situation, the evidence is against the player and he was penalized.”
Thomas rebounded with birdies at Nos. 15 and 17 to maintain his place inside the top 10 at East Lake.
“I'm really proud of myself that I hung in there and really stayed in the moment and just tried to focus on every shot,” he said. “It could have gotten away from me today, but it didn't.”