Martin Kaymer was the winner of the 92nd USPGA Championship here last night, but with respect to the German this major will always be remembered for the fate which befell Dustin Johnson. He was thrown out of the play-off in cruel and farcical fashion.
On the final hole, Johnson was penalised two shots for grounding his club in a sandy patch which was deemed to be a bunker. He was not informed of the ruling until after he had tapped in for his bogey, which he believed had earned him an 11-under total and a place in a three-man play-off, alongside Kaymer and his countryman Bubba Watson.
But as he walked off the green, a rules official approached him and he was led to the scorer's hut to check the tape. After a long meeting the 26-year-old was told of the decision – two shots. It meant he fell to a tie for fifth and when the announcement was made boos rang around the 18th green.
Johnson claimed afterwards not to have known it was a bunker and as it was in a trampled-down area outside the ropes and had no definitive "bunker" features, the outbreak of sympathy, if not anger, was understandable. But like all the players here, Johnson, who shot a final-round 82 when leading the US Open in June, was handed a "local rules" sheet on registration which explained the situation at this unique course, which is littered with small bunkers in odd places.
Whatever the situation, it will be a talking point for years to come. Golf should just be relieved Johnson did not hole his putt for his par on the 18th which would have given him the "win". Him jumping around the green, before being hauled down by officials really would have been an excruciating scene.
All of which is totally unfair to Kaymer, who became the second European to win a major this season – and the second German major winner in history. He prevailed despite falling behind to an early Watson birdie on the first hole of the play-off on the 10th hole. But a birdie on the par-three 17th took him level and so they headed to the 18th. Kaymer could only hit the par four in three but that was to be enough as the left-hander first went into the creek and then into the bunker. Kaymer had two putts for it and duly finished it off. Everyone knew he possessed the talent and this was mere confirmation of his quality. His success capped an incredible season for European golf.
Earlier, Rory McIlroy had suffered major heartache for the second time in three weeks as he missed out on the play-off by a solitary shot. The young Ulsterman saw his birdie effort on the 18th slip agonisingly by, although McIlroy will surely rue so many makeable putts go asked. Four putts went begging from under six feet yesterday. He came so close to becoming the youngest major winner in the modern era, but Woods will now retain that mark. McIlroy was a day younger than Tiger when he won the 1997 Masters.
It was a brave attempt by McIlroy who will only gain from the experience. It might have been his second dose of misery in as many majors – he finished third in last month's Open despite a second-round 80 - but this was his third podium placing in the last five majors.
He had played a full part in compelling finale which owed its early drama to the downfall of Nick Watney. For the second time in as many American majors a US pro with a three-shot overnight lead watched his advantage vanish in an instant. Watney double-bogeyed the first, Johnson birdied and from there it descended into comi-tragedy. It was ironic as Johnson was the player who capitulated at Pebble Beach two months ago. He must have known how his partner felt when he signed for an 81, falling from first to 27th. Johnson could later also tell him that far worse things can happen.
Watney's misery blew this major wide open - and so many players threatened to walk through. For a long time Kaymer looked certain to win in regulation time. The 25-year-old was two clear after 10 holes, but as the pack closed he could not lengthen. By the time he had four holes remaining there were six players within a shot. The 47-year-old Steve Elkington shared the lead at one stage, as did McIlroy, and as the final stages approached it was anyone's Wanamaker Trophy to lift.
McIlroy failed to birdie the par-five 16th and from there was always destined to fall short on Whistling Straits demanding final holes. But he gave it a whirl on the treacherous 18th, spinning it in to 15 feet. Alas, the putt rolled away. With Kaymer (70) and Watson (68) in at 11-under the way was set for Johnson – who had birdied the 17th – to par to become golf's ultimate Redemption Man. The rest, as they say, is hysteria.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods will have to rely on a wildcard from Corey Pavin if he is to play in the Ryder Cup in seven weeks time. The world No 1 required a top-seven finish, but that never looked likely as he finished down in a tie for 28th. That meant he has suffered back-to-back blank major seasons for the first time since 2003-04. Yet more importantly for the biennial dust-up, he was out of the top eight Americans who yesterday qualified automatically for Celtic Manor.
For the next three weeks the question will now be whether Pavin uses one of his three captain's picks on the world No 1. The answer will be a huge and resounding yes, although the fact it can be asked at all is surely staggering in itself. "I'd like to make the team, but I haven't made enough points," said Woods. "I'm going to have to rely on Corey for a pick; if he wants me on the team."
Pavin will want him and if he doesn't it will be the bravest decision in the history of the Cup to overlook the best-known player in the history of the game.
11 under (US unless stated)
M Kaymer (Ger), B Watson (Kaymer wins after play-off)
R McIlroy (N Irl), Z Johnson
J Dufner, S Elkington (Aus), D Johnson (Johnson handed two-stroke penalty for bunker infringement)
W Liang (China), C Villegas (Col)
J Day (Aus), M Kuchar
P Casey (Eng), S Dyson (Eng), P Mickelson, B Molder
R Karlsson (Swe), DA PointsReuse content