Question: - May a player, after going forward to search for his ball, return to where he last played in order to play a Provisional Ball?
Answer: - No
If the player did so the 2nd ball would become the ball in play and the original ball would be lost (see below for Rule 27-2a and Definition of "Lost Ball"). He must play a provisional ball "before going forward to search".
1) Procedure. If a ball may be lost outside a water hazard or may be out of bounds, to save time the player may play another ball provisionally in accordance with Rule 27-1. The player must inform his opponent in match play or his marker or a fellow competitor in stoke play that he intends to play a provisional ball, and he must play it before he or his partner goes forward to search for the original ball,
If he fails to do so and plays another ball, that ball is not a provisional ball and becomes the ball in play under penalty of stroke and distance (Rule 27-1); the original ball is lost.
Definition of "Lost Ball"
1) Lost Ball. A ball is deemed "lost" if
a) It is not found or identified as his by a player within 5 minutes after the player's side or his caddies have begun to search for it ; or
b) The player has made a stoke at a provisional ball from the place where the original ball is likely to be or from a point nearer the hole than that place (see Rule 27-2b); or
c) The player has put another ball into play under the penalty of stroke and distance (see Rule 27-2a); or
d) The player has put another ball into play because it is "known or virtually certain" ("reasonable evidence" has been replaced by " known of virtually known" in the new Rules dated 2008-2011) that the ball which has not been found, has been moved by an outside agency (see Rule 18-1), is in a obstruction (see Rule 24-3), is in an abnormal ground condition (see Rule 25-1c) or is in a water hazard (see Rule 26-1); or
e) The player has made a stroke at a substituted ball.
Time spent in playing a wrong ball is not counted in the 5 minutes period allowed for search.
Players searching for a ball should signal the players in the group behind them to play through as soon as it becomes apparent that the ball will not be easily found.
They should not search for 5 minutes before doing so.