It wasn’t quite decided by the flip of a coin but it will feel that way to Ian Poulter after he bizarrely lost the Dubai World Championship to Robert Karlsson on the second play-off hole.
The flamboyant Englishman potentially lost more than €416,000 - €303,452 in event prize money plus another €113,000 from the Race to Dubai Bonus Pool - when he marked his ball and then dropped it onto his “lucky” marker.
The “coin” - a custom-made platinum token inscribed with the names of his children - flipped over. And as a result, Poulter was penalised a vital stroke under one of golf’s most arcane rules, effectively turning a thrilling finish to the European Tour season into a crushing anti-climax.
Instead of sizing up a birdie putt of over 30 feet that would have force the Swede to hole his four footer for the win, Poulter was left putting for a par five.
Understandably, he left it short and with the pressure off, Karlsson needed only one putt to claim the €910,349 top prize and his 11th European Tour title.
Germany’s Martin Kaymer claimed the Race to Dubai from Graeme McDowell and a ‘bonus’ of $1.5m as he finished tied for 13th with the Ulsterman on six under par.
But the story of the week was completely overshadowed by Poulter’s mishap, which cost him the chance to continue his fight for back-to-back wins following his Hong Kong Open success. Had he beaten Karlsson he would have overtake Lee Westwood and finished third in the final Race to Dubai standings.
Instead he was left to wonder about what might have been after he had shot a 70 to Karlsson’s five under par 67 to leave them locked together on 14 under par.
“It’s a shame it’s just ended the way it has and it’s not a consolation for me that Robert holed the putt in any case,” Poulter said after a play-off that saw them brilliantly card matching birdie fours on the first extra hole. “It’s a strange rule because if I had dropped the ball on the middle of the marker and it had not moved there’s no penalty.
“But I should not drop my ball on it. It’s been my lucky marker since the start of the year and has got my kids’ names on. There are always positives, but right now I’m not seeing them.”
Poulter feared the worst after his faux-pas and heard the bad news almost straight away when he called over Chief Referee, Andy McFee and was informed that he was being penalised under Decision 20-1/15.
Asked how frustrating it felt, he did little to hide his disgust as he lost 23 world ranking points and the chance to go to seventh in the world, instead of just eighth
“About 20 world ranking points, a lovely trophy and about $400,000 - that much frustrating,” Poulter said.
At first, Rory McIlroy was sympathetic to Poulter’s plight as he informed the world on Twitter: “So gutted for @ianJamesPoulter !! What a crap rule! Still great playing for the last few weeks!”
Minutes later, McIlroy tweeted again: “Poults may not have won the Dubai World Championship, but he could be in with a shout for tiddlywinks world championship!” Ouch.
Karlsson was a worthy winner after a final round that saw him birdie the first two holes and then hole an eight iron from 172 yards for an eagle two at the third.
“These things happen in golf. It’s not the way you want to win,” Karlsson said. “The rules are there for a reason but some of them can be tough.”
Despite his failure to secure the top-three finish he needed to overhaul Kaymer in the Race to Dubai, McDowell was upbeat after closing with round of 69 and 68 to share 13th with his rival.
“Friday was the disappointing day for me because I lost my head, got impatient and got frustrated with myself,” he said. “To shoot seven under par and play as well as I have this weekend makes me very proud of what I’ve achieved this season. It was a nice way to finish.”
With Westwood finishing the year as world No 1, McDowell now believe that he too has a chance to go on and become the best player in the world some day.
He said: “Of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think I could be world No 1. I think a few years ago, Tiger Woods looked pretty untouchable, pretty invincible, and we were all playing for second really.
“Nowadays is a little different. When I look at one of my good friends and colleagues as the world’s no 1 player, do I believe I can be world No1, of course I do?
“If I didn’t there’d be something wrong because I know there’s a lot of room for improvement in my game. I know I can continue to get better and better and put all the great experiences I’ve had to good use in the next five to 10 years.
“I’m 31 years old, feeling healthy and physically very good and I know I can get better. So, of course, I can be world No 1 at some point.”