DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – It’s hard to think of a worse finish to the best European season ever.
Ian Poulter is the latest in a long line of players to run afoul of the stringent Rules of Golf. After pushing himself to the limit for four days and two extra holes, Poulter’s hard work counted for nothing because of a mere slip of the hand.
Involved in a dramatic playoff with Sweden’s Robert Karlsson for the $7.5 million Dubai World Championship, Poulter accidentally dropped his ball on the 18th green and violated a rule many outside, and inside, the game will find simply outrageous.
With a putt to tie Karlsson on the second hole of sudden death after the pair finished at 14 under par, Poulter dropped his ball on his ball marker from a height of no more than a few inches. The marker flipped over and tossed Poulter out of contention.
The marker barely had moved from its original position, but the damage had been done.
Aware that he might have infringed a rule, he called to European Tour referee Andy McFee. McFee confirmed Poulter’s worst nightmare. Even though the Englishman was not seeking any advantage, the movement of the marker meant the Englishman incurred a one-stroke penalty under Rule 20-1/15.
One bizarre slip of the hand suddenly turned what had been a 30-foot birdie putt turned into a par putt. And it was the end of the tournament with Karlsson only 3 feet away.
The Swede calmly rolled in his birdie putt to claim the first-place prize of 910,348 euros. Poulter had to settle for second place and 606,896 euros.
“Literally the ball slipped from two or three inches above the coin,” Poulter said. “It’s pitched right on the front of the coin and the coin flipped over. One-shot penalty.
“It cost me a couple of World Ranking points, a couple of dollars. No, probably wasn’t the best of timing.”
Poulter called the referee over as soon as the incident happened, even though no one else had seen it. That’s little consolation to a man who thrives on winning golf tournaments, and who was chasing his second win in a row.
Karlsson is one of the classiest players on the European circuit, and that much was obvious from his reaction to the tournament’s bizarre end.
“It’s not the way you want to win a tournament,” Karlsson conceded. “The rules are there for a reason, but obviously some of them look very, very harsh at some stages.
“That’s the purity of the game, that we have very harsh rules and we actually follow them, compared to some other sports. That’s the beauty of the game in one way. But obviously it’s not great when these sort of things happen, especially not under these circumstances.”
Karlsson earned his second win of the season following a victory in Qatar earlier this season. However, his season was spoiled by a bout of glandular fever midway through the year, an ailment that probably cost him a Ryder Cup spot.
“I’m very happy with this week, and the year in whole actually, winning two times, and a second in Memphis in America; I lost to Lee (Westwood) in a playoff,” Karlsson said. “So it has not been bad, even though people maybe were expecting more. But if I win twice in a year, it’s a pretty good year.”
Of course, the Karlsson-Poulter battle was one of two subplots in the desert. The other concerned the crowning of the European No. 1.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer won that particular battle. The reigning PGA champion outlasted Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell over the four days to become the new king of Europe.
McDowell had to finish third or better to have a chance. He placed 13th, leaving the German with a fairly easy ride to the European title.
Kaymer becomes the first German since Bernhard Langer in 1984 to win the European money title. After a year in which he has realized all his goals – making the Ryder Cup team, winning a major and becoming European No. 1 – the only way is up for King Kaymer.
“I would like to prove that I’m Europe’s No. 1, take that challenge on again, to win The Race to Dubai,” Kaymer said. “It would be nice to win a major again, preferably the British Open, our only major that we have in Europe.”
So Europe crowns a new No. 1 in its best season ever, but once again the game is sullied by the silliness of the Rules of Golf.