OAKMONT, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - The final round of the U.S. Open was thrown into an almost farcical state of confusion on Sunday over whether back-nine leader Dustin Johnson would or would not be hit with a one-shot penalty for making his ball move early in his round.
Johnson was leading the championship by one stroke when he was informed on the 12th tee by a U.S. Golf Association (USGA) official that he might be penalized after the round despite being cleared on the spot of the possible infraction on the fifth green at Oakmont.
Johnson's ball appeared to move slightly as the long-hitting American was preparing to attempt his par putt. He denied having caused the ball to move and the official accompanying the pairing decided not to levy a penalty.
Seven holes later, Johnson was told that video evidence of the incident would be reviewed after the round.
"After looking at the video, we have some concerns," Jeff Hall, the USGA's managing director of rules and competitions, explained to FOX TV. "We put him on notice that, based on what we saw, the actions may lead to a penalty stroke."
Officials informed the other contending golfers on the course that Johnson might be penalized.
This left the contenders to play the final few holes not knowing how they stood in relation to Johnson.
With the ruling still to come, Johnson led at four-under with three holes left, two strokes ahead of Irishman Shane Lowry (three holes left) and American Scott Piercy (one hole left).
The USGA handling of the situation drew outraged responses from other high profile players via Twitter.
"Amateur hour from @USGA," tweeted Rory McIlroy, saying no penalty was warranted.
Added Jordan Spieth: "This is a joke."
(The story was refiled to add the title and name of the rules offical)
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Andrew Both)