PHOENIX – The mountaintop is still within reach Sunday, but Stacy Lewis’ climb is a little harder now.
Lewis can still seize the Rolex world No. 1 ranking with a victory at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup, but the challenge feels twice as difficult.
Instead of beginning the final round two shots behind Ai Miyazato, Lewis will begin it four back, thanks to a penalty assessed after Saturday's round.
In a late blow, Lewis was robbed of some momentum when she was informed of a potential rules issue as she left the 18th green. Lewis and her caddie, Travis Wilson, marched into a TV truck where they watched a video review that showed Wilson had violated Rule 13-4 by testing the surface of a hazard when he walked into a bunker at the 16th hole.
Instead of a bogey-free 66, Lewis posted a 68.
Instead of leaving JW Marriott’s Wildfire Golf Club glowing over a closing 10-foot birdie, Lewis left with the disappointment of an unexpected penalty.
Lewis, though, knows hard climbs. She has been making them her entire life as a kid with a rod and five screws attached to her spine and scoliosis to overcome.
“In my mind, I shot a bogey-free 66 today, and that’s what I’m going to take home tonight,” Lewis said. “I played really well today.”
Lewis wants the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. It’s a driving ambition this season, and she would prefer to seize it with a victory. She needed to win to get the top ranking this week with Yani Tseng finishing third or worse. Tseng’s out of the picture for the moment, tied for 63rd after a 72. Miyazato’s the challenge now. She’s a former world No. 1 who is riding a tough combination of terrific ball striking and hot putting.
With rounds of 63, 67 and 67, Miyazato has raced to 19 under par. She missed just one fairway Saturday, just two greens. She was bogey-free in the third round and doesn’t look like she will make many mistakes.
“Ai is really playing well,” Lewis said. “I thought shooting 66 I could get a little closer. It’s going to take a really good round tomorrow, but I’m playing well.”
Miyazato is taking nothing for granted.
“There are so, so many low rounds out there,” Miyazato said.
Lewis was derailed at the 16th after driving into a fairway bunker.
Wilson ventured into the bunker, apparently to check her lie. Television viewers called both Golf Channel and LPGA rules officials to point out that Wilson appeared to test the surface of the sand. Lewis ended up skulling her shot from that bunker over the 16th green and off a TV tower. She salvaged what she thought was a par, but she would learn differently walking to the scoring tent after her round.
Rules officials informed Lewis that Wilson may have violated Rule 13-4, but they wanted Lewis and Wilson to go to the TV truck to review replays.
The replay shows Wilson stepping into the bunker and turning and pivoting in the sand. Curiously, Lewis can be heard wondering aloud about the depth of the sand while he is in there. It was a damning sequence.
“I don’t think Travis went into the bunker to test the sand,” said Sue Witters, LPGA vice president of rules and competition. “I think it was just a reaction.”
Wilson told Lewis he never intended to test the sand.
“The problem with the whole situation is when he moves his foot like that, it looks like he’s trying to figure out how much sand is in the bunker,” Lewis said. “Any time you go into a bunker to hit a bunker shot, you’re trying to figure out how much sand is in the bunker.
“It looks like he’s going in there to see how much sand is in there when that really wasn’t what he was trying to do.”
Lewis said the video made it difficult to contest.
“You take a look at it from an outsider’s perspective, it’s a two-shot penalty,” Lewis said.
Why was Wilson in the bunker at all?
“I think he was just walking over to look at the lie,” Lewis said.
Lewis said Wilson took the penalty hard.
“More than anything I feel bad for him because he feels awful,” Lewis said. “He’s the best caddie out here. So, we’ll be fine. We still have a chance to win tomorrow, so we’ll be OK.”