Ian Poulter lost more than £350,000 on the flip of a coin here yesterday. In the latest bizarre golf ruling, which is sure to heap further ridicule upon the sport, the Englishman suffered a penalty shot which cost him the Dubai World Championship.
Robert Karlsson was left to tap in for the £775,000 first prize, but the fact that the big Swede made birdie on the second play-off hole was of "absolutely no consolation" to Poulter. He had felt optimistic of making his own 30-footer for a four on the par-five 18th – but just after he had marked his ball it fell out of his grasp. It duly hit his marker on the front edge, causing it to flip over forwards. Here was a case of "heads, you lose".
The marker moved only about a centimetre nearer the hole, but Poulter immediately called over the referee Andy McAfee. "It was a strange one," Poulter explained. "I was only a few inches above the marker when I dropped my ball. If it hit the centre of the marker it wouldn't have moved and there would have been no penalty."
Poulter was gracious enough not to rage, but inside he must have burning (despite returning to the world's top 10). He was going for the first back-to-back win of his career and for what this year's World Match Play champion called "my second biggest win". "How frustrated am I?" he said. "Well, it cost me 20 rankings points, a lovely trophy and over half a million dollars. That frustrated."
In truth, the rule is a daft one, dafter even than the one which saw Dustin Johnson miss the play-off of the USPGA in August after grounding his club in what he did not realise was a bunker.
Of course Poulter was not seeking any sort of advantage and, of course, the ball marker was replaced in its original position. What made it seem all the more insane was that the overwhelming majority of the gallery surrounding the green watched Poulter eventually make his putt not realising it was for a par and not a birdie.
Inevitably the farce overshadowed Karlsson's victory. After a few seasons blighted by an eye problem and then a viral illness, this was a rousing comeback. His 67 for a 14-under total bettered Poulter's final round by three. Karlsson birdied the 18th three times yesterday, thrillingly responding to Poulter's approach to three-feet on the first extra hole with one of his very own. A little earlier on the same green, Poulter had believed he had won in regulation when a 20-footer agonisingly lipped out. But this was Karlsson's day.
"It's not the way you want to win," admitted the Swede. "The rules are there for a reason but obviously some of them look very, very harsh sometimes. It's the purity of the game that we have very harsh rules and we follow them, unlike some other sports."
Meanwhile, Martin Kaymer was confirmed as the Order of Merit champion. The 25-year-old became the youngest recipient of the Harry Vardon Trophy in more than 20 years. It was not quite the nail-biting climax the sponsors were hoping for, as Graeme McDowell, the only player who could deny the German,could only fire a 68 to finish alongside Kaymer on six-under. In third came Lee Westwood, strengthening his hold on the world No 1 position with another strong showing.
Instead all the drama came from the pathetic finale. "That marker is a lucky coin," said Poulter. "But I'm not going to throw it away. It's still lucky as it has my kids' names on it."
It didn't take long for the wisecracks to begin. "Poults may not have won the Dubai World Championship," tweeted Rory McIlroy, "but he could be in with a shout for the tiddlywinks world championship!" Funny? Poulter almost laughed.