Jordan Spieth feared the US PGA Championship could be decided by a stroke of bad luck after completing his unsuccessful bid to become the youngest winner of a career grand slam.
Spieth needs to win the US PGA to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in having won all four majors.
Victory at Quail Hollow would have seen him surpass Woods as the youngest member of that exclusive club, but the Open champion was never in contention and a closing 70 - his best round of the week - left him on two over par.
The final groups had played just a few holes as Spieth spoke to the media after his round and predicted that the wet conditions could lead to balls picking up mud on the fairways.
But with preferred lies not in operation, players would not be allowed to clean the ball before hitting their next shot, which can lead to unpredictable results.
"Mark my words, there's a better than decent chance this tournament is decided by a mudball," Spieth said. "It stinks that it could potentially decide the outcome of this tournament."
Water is in play on the last five holes at Quail Hollow, with the tough finishing stretch of 16, 17 and 18 known as the "Green Mile".
Kerry Haigh, chief championships officer for the PGA of America, told TNT: "I think early in the round there are a number of opportunities on four, seven, 14 and 15 to make some birdies, but certainly the Green Mile is truly going to be a stiff test coming home."
American Kevin Kisner had double-bogeyed the 16th and bogeyed the 18th in the third round, but still started the final day with a one-shot lead which soon doubled after early bogeys from nearest challengers Hideki Matsuyama and Chris Stroud.
However, Matsuyama bounced back to birdie the sixth and seventh and join Kisner on seven under par, with a bogey on the sixth dropping Stroud back into a tie for third with South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen and American Justin Thomas.
Jason Day had earlier gone from the ridiculous to the sublime as he tried to get back into contention for a second US PGA Championship title.
Day was four shots off the lead playing the final hole of his third round on Saturday when he attempted a highly risky recovery shot around a tree just two yards in front of him.
The former world number one succeeded only in sending his ball into some bushes, from where he had to take a penalty drop and pitch over more shrubbery into the rough to the right of the fairway.
From there Day came up short of the green and three-putted to card a quadruple-bogey eight, dropping him back to level par and seven behind playing partner Kisner.
Commentating for CBS, six-time major winner Sir Nick Faldo was highly critical of Day's choice of shot, adding: "That's one of the craziest decisions I have ever seen a professional make, that second shot.
"I can't believe Col Swatton (his caddie) did not give him a wedge and start walking, say that's the only choice mate. That is his PGA right out of the window with one crazy decision."
Only one player has come from seven shots behind with 18 holes to play to win the US PGA, but Day instantly cut his deficit to six by holing a bunker shot on the first.
Stroud, who claimed the last place in the field by winning his first PGA Tour title at the 290th attempt last Sunday, bounced back with birdies on the eighth and ninth to briefly join Matsuyama in the lead.
However, Matsuyama moved back in front with a birdie on the 10th which was matched in amazing fashion by playing partner Thomas, whose putt hung on the edge of the hole for several seconds before eventually falling in.
That kept Thomas within a shot of the lead and Kisner then made it a three-way tie for second by holing from 15 feet on the 10th.
Further down the leaderboard, England's Jordan Smith faced an anxious wait to see if he would remain inside the top 15 on his major debut and secure a place at Bellerive Country Club next year.
Smith, who won his maiden European Tour title in Germany a fortnight ago, carded a final round of 68 marred only by a bogey on the 18th.
"I'm really, really happy with the way I played today," the 24-year-old said. "It was a bit of a shame about the last but overall I'm just really chuffed with myself with the whole week.
"I'm still pinching myself. I've had some really good groups, enjoyed the whole experience and ended up playing some really good golf so I'm happy."