SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Martin Kaymer’s name is etched on the side of the Wanamaker Trophy.
A far more compelling image from this PGA Championship was Dustin Johnson taking one last look at his scorecard Sunday before turning over his pencil to use the eraser on his final hole.
The 5 turned into a 7.
It kept Johnson out of a playoff, which Kaymer won over Bubba Watson, all because of a tiny patch of sand well right of the 18th fairway where Johnson gently placed his four-iron behind the ball, unaware that it was part of a bunker.
“It never crossed my mind that I was in a sand trap,” Johnson said.
The resulting two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker — outside the ropes, where thousands of fans had been walking all week — turned a thrilling final hour into a controversial finish that will be debated for years.
In a strange season of golf, from Tiger Woods’ sex scandal to unlikely winners in the majors, this one topped them all.
Whistling Straits has so many bunkers — more than 1,000 — that not even architect Pete Dye can count them all. Perhaps it was only fitting that one of them played such a pivotal role in the season’s final major.
“It was very tough to see what is a bunker and what is not a bunker,” said Kaymer, who won the three-hole playoff with a tap-in bogey. “I think it’s very sad he got two penalty strokes. He played great golf. He’s a very nice guy.”
Kaymer won his first major in a PGA Championship that will be remembered as much for the guy who tied for fifth.
It was the cruelest end to a major since Roberto de Vicenzo signed for a higher score than he actually made in the 1968 Masters, which kept him out of a playoff against Bob Goalby.
Johnson had no excuses. The peculiar rule about every bunker being treated the same had been posted in the locker-room all week. And he offered none when a PGA rules official stopped him walking off the green and said, “We’ve got an issue.”
His first reaction when told he might have grounded his club in a bunker: “What bunker?”
Johnson didn’t even bother going to the TV truck to study the replay. He knew he grounded the club. He just didn’t know that he was in the edge of a bunker, figuring it was grass that had been killed under so much foot traffic.
“The only worse thing that could have happened was if I had made the putt on that last hole,” Johnson said.
Thinking he had a chance to win, Johnson missed a seven-foot par putt on the 18th to seemingly slip into a three-man playoff. Instead, the two-shot 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.
As Johnson was leaving the course, Kaymer was coming up clutch again.
The 25-year-old German 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 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 chipped out after seeing Watson go in the water, and he hit seven-iron to 15 feet for a two-putt bogey.
“I don’t realize what happened,” Kaymer said. “I just won my first major. I’ve got goose bumps just talking about it.”
Kaymer earned US$1.35 million, went to third in the Ryder Cup standings for Europe and moved to a career-best No. 5 in the world.
Watson was only disappointed for a few minutes until learning he had played his way onto the Ryder Cup team.
For Johnson, this might take far longer to recover from than 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 an 82.
The final major of the year proved to be the most thrilling over the final hour, even with Woods long gone before all the excitement began. 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 only allowed one birdie in the final round.
For all the clutch putts by Kaymer, however, this PGA Championship came down to the bunkers.
Six years ago in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Stuart Appleby was unaware of the rule and was assessed a four-shot penalty. Appleby said Sunday night on Twitter that changes are needed for the PGA Championship that returns in 2015 on a course “that has hundreds of pointless bunkers that patrons have to walk through to view players.”
“I’m very … angered that this is the way the 2010 PGA came to an end,” he said.
Johnson never disputed that he grounded his club, yet he was no less stunned to realize he was in a bunker. Inside the scoring room, he could be seen erasing the 5 on this scorecard and changing it to a 7.
“There’s a lot going on,” Johnson said of the commotion on the 18th. “I’m excited I had a putt to win — or thought I had a putt to win. Walking off … I think I’m going to a playoff, and I’ve got a two-stroke penalty.”
Dressed in street clothes as he spoke to reporters, Johnson had to watch Watson and Kaymer head for the three-hole playoff, the second in as many trips to Whistling Straits.
Watson, who had overpowered the back nine with his booming tee shots, struck first with a massive strike to just short of the par-4 10th green and a pitch to four feet for birdie. Kaymer answered with a 15-foot birdie on the 17th, sending them to the 18th hole.
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.”
About all Johnson can take away is how he finished. Three shots behind with six holes to play, he made a spectacular escape from deep rough below the par-5 16th green to two feet for birdie, then hit six-iron to 12 feet for birdie on the 17th.
His tee shot on the 18th sailed to the right and into the gallery. He had no idea how badly that would end up costing him.