COMMENTARY: Bunker ruling scars PGA Championship
Martin Kaymer’s first major victory looked predestined. He has placed in the top 10 in four of the last five majors.
SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – (USA) Everything down the final stretch at the PGA Championship foreshadowed an inevitable drama unfolding. More than a half-dozen players bunched atop the leaderboard was a recipe for an unpredictable finish.
Martin Kaymer won his first major Sunday at Whistling Straits, but probably Dustin Johnson will be the talk surrounding water coolers on Monday.
If you blinked Sunday, you may have missed a lead change or two – but chances are that most everybody saw what happened to Johnson on the 18th hole.
Johnson appeared set to join a playoff between Kaymer and Bubba Watson but incurred a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker. Johnson had a one-shot lead playing the 18th hole when he drove it well right into a tiny patch of sand where the gallery had walked all week.
“Walking up there, seeing the shot, it never once crossed my mind that I was in a sand trap,’’ Johnson said. “It’s very unfortunate. The only worse thing that could have happened was if I had made the putt on that last hole.’’
The penalty turned his 71 into a 73, and instead of going to a playoff for redemption from his U.S. Open meltdown, Johnson tied for fifth and headed home.
Kaymer, 25, holed a 15-foot par putt on the 18th hole in regulation for a 2-under 70 to join Watson (68) at 11-under 277. One shot behind in the aggregate three-hole playoff, Kaymer made another 15-foot putt for birdie on the par-3 17th, then watched Watson implode.
Watson went from the right rough into the water, then over the green into a bunker. His bunker shot hit the flag, and he tapped in for double bogey. Kaymer laid up after seeing Watson go into the water, and he hit 7-iron to 15 feet for a two-putt bogey.
Kaymer’s victory makes it two European triumphs in the past three majors after Graeme McDowell’s Pebble Beach triumph.
“I was nervous in the regular round, but in the playoff it was strange – I felt very calm, very confident,’’ said Kaymer, who earned $1.35 million, improved to third in the Europe Ryder Cup standings and moved to a career-best No. 5 in the world.
Watson was disappointed for only a few minutes until learning he had played his way onto the Ryder Cup team.
“The Ryder Cup was the most important,” Watson said. “That’s what I was playing for.”
For Johnson, this might be a far longer recovery than after the U.S. Open, where he had a three-shot lead going into the final round, took triple bogey on the second hole and shot 82.
The final major of the year proved to be the most thrilling over the final hour, even with Tiger Woods long gone. Woods closed with a 73 and tied for 28th.
Six players had a share of the lead at some point Sunday, and six players were separated by one shot over the final 30 minutes.
That included Rory McIlroy, the 21-year-old from Northern Ireland who was trying to become the youngest major champion in 80 years. He had a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to join the clubhouse leaders at 11 under, only for the putt to turn away.
Also one shot behind was former Masters champion Zach Johnson. Both of them needed a birdie on the 500-yard closing hole that yielded only one birdie in the final round.
For all the clutch putts by Kaymer, however, this PGA Championship came down to the bunkers.
The PGA of America posted a notice in the locker room and on the first tee throughout the week, reminding players that all bunkers were to be treated like hazards – even though the ropes go right through the middle of some of them, and fans can pitch a lawn chair in them.
Six years ago in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Stuart Appleby was unaware of the rule and assessed a four-shot penalty.
Watson, who had overpowered the back nine with his booming tee shots, struck first with a massive drive to just short of the par-4 10th green and a pitch to 4 feet for birdie. Kaymer answered with a 15-foot birdie on the 17th, sending them to the 18th hole tied.
That’s where Watson fell apart, driving into the rough and going after the 18th green from a tough lie. He hit a 6-iron and was posing until it came up woefully short and into the water.
“I made a bad swing. You can’t get mad at a bad swing,’’ Watson said. “I wouldn’t do anything different. I play to win, not to lay up and finish second.’’
Lost in the maddening finish was Watney, who had a three-shot lead going into the final round. He took double bogey on the opening hole, lost the lead for good with a tee shot on No. 7 that bounced off the rocks and into Lake Michigan for a triple bogey and closed with an 81, the highest finish by a 54-hole leader at the PGA Championship since it went to stroke play in 1958.
He tied for 18th and cost himself a chance of earning a spot on the Ryder Cup team. Then, he had to endure watching Johnson, with whom he often plays practice rounds, have a chance at his first major taken away by a peculiar local rule.
“I didn’t see anything on the golf course, and when the official came up, I was totally shocked,’’ Watney said. “I thought he was coming to me about it, the way my day was going.
“Whether that’s fair? I guess they did write it on the sheet,’’ Watney said. “Man, that’s a tough call, though.’’
Matt Nelson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.