Ryu wins ANA Inspiration as controversy engulfs Thompson

Thompson was in the lead when she learned after the 12th hole that she was being penalised for an infraction the previous day, spotted by a television viewer.

Lexi Thompson composes herself on 18th green during the final round of the LPGA Tour's ANA Inspiration golf tournament at Mission Hills Country Club.   -  AP

South Korea’s Ryu So-Yeon won the ANA Inspiration with a birdie at the first play-off hole on Sunday, beating Lexi Thompson after the American was left in tears by a rules fiasco that cost her four strokes.

Thompson was in the lead when she learned after the 12th hole that she was being penalised for an infraction the previous day, spotted by a television viewer. She nevertheless birdied three of the last six holes to force the play-off, but couldn’t match Ryu’s play-off birdie.

Even Ryu, who made the last of her four birdies in a four-under 68 at the 18th to move atop the leaderboard, admitted her second major championship felt “weird”.

“But I’m also really proud of myself,” said Ryu, who also won the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open.

She and Thompson both finished 72 holes at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, on 14-under 274. Thompson carded a final-round 67. It would have been her third straight 67, but her third round was amended to a 71.

“On Sunday afternoon, the LPGA received an email from a television viewer that Lexi Thompson did not properly replace her ball prior to putting out on the 17th hole during Saturday’s third round of the ANA Inspiration,” the LPGA said in a statement.

Video showed Thompson marking her ball then placing it back in slightly different relation to the coin prior to a putt of less than two feet. She was assessed a two-shot penalty for the infraction, and two shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.

“Is this a joke,” a stunned Thompson said as she strode toward the 13th tee. “That’s just ridiculous.”

She was fighting tears as she hit her tee shot at 13, but she birdied the hole and was tied for the lead at 13-under. “I just tried to gather myself before I made that tee shot, and made a great putt there,” said Thompson, who was trying add a second ANA Inspiration title to the one she captured in 2014.

Tiger Woods led a chorus of incredulity across the golf world as the controversy unfolded. “Viewers at home should not be officials wearing stripes,” the 14-time major champion tweeted. “Let’s go @Lexi win this thing anyway.”

The galleries felt the same, chanting and cheering for Thompson as she completed her round. “They really got me through the whole round,” she said. “I felt strong through the finish.”

A birdie at 15 moved her back into the lead, but she bogeyed 16. She had a chance for an eagle to win it at the par-five 18th. Playing partner Suzann Pettersen, who finished a stroke back on 275 along with South Korean Park In-Bee and Australian Minjee Lee, was impressed with Thompson’s resilience.

“For her to come back with those birdies shows the character she is,” Pettersen said. “Just true class from Lexi.”