Bunker penalty knocks out Johnson at PGA

Dustin Johnson hits from a bunker on the 18th hole at Whistling Straits during the final round of the PGA Championship.

Dustin Johnson hits from a bunker on the 18th hole at Whistling Straits during the final round of the PGA Championship.

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Excerpt from the “Supplementary Rules of Play” that was posted in the locker room at Whistling Straits for the PGA Championship:

1. Bunkers: All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside of the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tire tracks during the play of the Championship. Such irregularities of surface are a part of the game and no free relief will be available form these conditions.

Note 1: The sand area in front, left and behind No. 5 green in the later water hazard is NOT a bunker (do not move stones).

Note 2: Where necessary, blue dots define the margin of a bunker.

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Dustin Johnson turned his pencil upside down and began erasing his scorecard.

He’d already given one major championship away. He never got a chance to finish this one.

Johnson was knocked out of the playoff at the PGA Championship on Sunday after he was penalized two strokes for grounding his club in a bunker he didn’t even realize existed. Instead of 71 to join Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson in the three-hole playoff, he changed his score from a 5 to a 7 and signed for a 73 to tie for fifth.

“I don’t know if I can describe it,” said Johnson, who showered quickly and was on his way to the parking lot before Kaymer and Watson finished their first hole. “If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have thought I was in a bunker. But it’s not up to me.”

It was the cruelest ruling at a major since Roberto de Vicenzo accidentally signed for a higher score at the 1968 Masters, and the victory went to Bob Goalby.

And it was yet another major heartbreak for Johnson.

The 26-year-old was the third-round leader at the U.S. Open, only to have a complete meltdown Sunday and shoot 82. It was the highest score in the U.S. Open by a 54-hole leader since Fred McLeod shot 83 at Chicago Golf Club in 1911. It was also Johnson’s worst score as a professional.

He insisted he wouldn’t let the collapse linger, and Pebble Beach seemed the furthest thing from his mind at Whistling Straits. When he curled in a 12-footer for birdie on the par-3 17th, he was the outright leader, less than a half-hour from redemption.

But his tee shot on 18 sailed into the gallery lining the right side of the fairway, landing in a small patch of sand that had been walked on, kicked and trampled by thousands of fans over the last week.

“Walking up and seeing the shot, never once did it cross my mind it was in a sand trap,” Johnson said. “I just thought it was on a piece of dirt the crowd had trampled down. Never thought it was a sand trap. I looked at it a lot, never once thought it was a bunker.”

Whistling Straits is designed to mimic an old-style links course, with more bunkers than you can count – literally. Anytime the grounds crew trims the fescue, another emerges. The PGA of America decided back in 2004 that every bunker is a hazard, no matter how many fans tromp through it, and players were reminded of it this week with a notice in the locker room.

Johnson never read it.

Neither, though, did many other players.

“Honestly, I don’t think anyone reads the sheets,” playing partner Nick Watney said. “I mean, we’ve played in hundreds of tournaments, we get a sheet every week.”

Unaware he was in a bunker, Johnson grounded his club before hitting toward the green. He missed a par putt that would have given him the victory, and immediately turned his attention to the playoff with Watson and Kaymer.

But as he and Watney walked off the green, he was approached by rules official David Price. There was a problem, Price told them, Johnson might have grounded his club in a bunker.

“What bunker?” was Johnson’s reaction.

Given the details, Johnson immediately said he had grounded his club.

photo

Dustin Johnson played his second shot on the 18th hole from this bunker.

“But I never thought it was in a bunker,” Johnson said.

Though he never disputed he’d grounded the club, Johnson and Watney spent several minutes in the scoring trailer with rules officials and watched replays of the shot.

Finally, he grabbed his pencil and changed the scorecard.

“I think I’m going to a playoff,” he said, “and I’ve got a two-stroke penalty.”

Johnson was composed when he spoke to the media in the clubhouse, never once blaming officials. Or even questioning them. He’d violated a rule, no matter if he didn’t realize it.

His lone consolation is that his finish earned him a spot on his first Ryder Cup team. But whenever he sees the Wanamaker Trophy from now, Johnson will know it could have – maybe should have – been his.

“Maybe a little bit,” Johnson said when someone suggested the title was “stolen” from him. “But that’s how it goes.”

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