Cameron Smith was caught up in extraordinary scenes in the final round of the Hong Kong Open on Sunday, with the actions of playing partner Phachara Khongwatmai leaving the golf world stunned. The Aussie star had to settle for second place behind New Zealander Ben Campbell, but it was the brazen conduct of Khongwatmai that drew all the attention.
The Thai player had a one-shot lead over Smith with three holes to play, but things took a staggering turn on the 16th. Khongwatmai sprayed his drive into some thick bushes off the fairway on the par-4 hole, and then failed in his first attempt to hack it out.
He then sparked an extraordinary 20-minute delay as he tried to convince officials to give him an 'unplayable lie', effectively holding the tournament to ransom as he agonised over his next move. Smith and Campbell were left fuming over the delay, with both appearing very perturbed by Khongwatmai's conduct.
Khongwatmai appeared to contravene the rules when he brazenly broke some tree branches in order to get a better shot, with Campbell protesting his rival's actions. “He can’t stand all over this, can he?” the Kiwi said. “I think you need to get another official. He’s broken these branches here … Look at that, these just got broken.”
The TV commentators couldn't believe what they were seeing. "I've never seen this before," one said. "You get the impression his playing partners are not happy." Fans were also left stunned on social media, with one labelling Khongwatmai's actions "blatant cheating".
Pachara Khongwatmai literally moved a tree to get himself a clear shot at the Hong Kong Open. Cam Smith and Ben Campbell were not happy about it at all and it took nearly 15 mins to play the shot! Who saw this? Is it acceptable? https://t.co/bvRWh2sk2F
— Flushing It (@flushingitgolf) November 12, 2023
It is! Absolute joke.
— Simon 🏌️♂️ (@simon_xx74) November 12, 2023
No way he could remove that much deadfall from a live tree without breaking off live growth. Campbell and Cam had every right (and responsibility to all other players in field) to watch every single movement involved and if not satisfied with ruling to demand another opinion.
— What's It To You (@NeedDayJob) November 12, 2023
Should have been made to take a drop! Took too long and was unfair to his playing partners.
— jackie caldecourt (@jcaldecourt) November 12, 2023
20 mins walking around on all the undergrowth. IMO that was outside of what’s acceptable.
— Mark Pascoe (@MarkPascoe351) November 12, 2023
Cameron Smith runner-up after Phachara Khongwatmai dramas
After some 20 minutes of delay, Khongwatmai got down on his knees and attempted his shot despite not having any idea where the ball had been. "He's not thinking clearly," a commentator said. "I really don't think he is. This could go horribly wrong. His head must be in a mincer at the moment."
The Thai player miraculously chopped the ball out of the bushes and landed it next to the fairway, going on to card a double-bogey six as Smith made par for a two-shot swing. The Aussie was up by one heading to the 17th, but Campbell and Khongwatmai both birdied it to join Smith in the lead walking to the last.
Smith was forced to lay up after spraying his tee shot right and under some trees, before Campbell stuck his approach shot to within 15 feet to snatch the trophy. Khongwatmai pulled his short par putt to fall into a tie for third.
"I was battling all day," said Campbell, whose career has been hampered by a number of injuries. "I've had quite a few injuries and bulged discs in the back and things like that, so I had to change the swing quite a bit, especially in the last two or three years. Throughout the year I've had chances (to win) but not been able to finish it off, so great to put that behind me now. Monkey's off the back now."
Smith expressed his disappointment despite the second-place finish. "Pretty poor over the weekend," he said. "But I hung in there good, so lots of positives to take from that, but definitely wasn't the nicest golf to be played over the last couple of days. It didn't feel great, but it was still ok. Plenty of positives to take away from it, it was just a frustrating weekend."
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