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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 31 March, 2020


DUSTIN JOHNSON was left heartbroken after a questionable referee’s ruling on the final hole of the USPGA championship cost him two strokes – and a chance to win his first Major.

Johnson only needed to stay level on the par-4 18th hole but sliced his drive into the crowd, where the ball landed on a bare patch of ground surrounded by spectators.

With the ground being quite bare around the spot on which his ball had landed, Johnson assumed the piece was just considered a rough patch and shot on – only to be informed afterwards that the moderately sandy ground was considered a bunker.

Johnson went on to rescue a 5 and enter a three-way play-off – or so he thought, until he was informed by a course referee that he had incurred two penalty strokes by breaching the rules of bunker play.

In designated bunkers, golfers are not allowed to rest their club on the sand’s surface before striking at the ball – but Johnson, unaware of the area’s classification, rested his club twice as he addressed the ball and incurred a penalty.

As a result, Johnson fell from a play-off to a tie for fifth – leaving Germany’s Martin Kaymer and big-hitting American Bubba Watson to contest the play-off alone, which Kaymer won on the third hole.

Afterwards, Johnson said he simply did not know that the area was considered a sand trap, remarking that the area had already been so trampled by spectators – who do not walk on the course itself during play – that he simply thought he had missed the fairway.

There are over 1,200 bunkers on the Whistling Straits course, and not all are considered in play – raising the question of how many other golfers committed the same ‘foul’ with no penalty.

[caption id="attachment_11995" align="alignnone" width="383" caption="Johnson is informed by a course referee of his two-stroke penalty."]Johnson is informed by a course referee of his two-stroke penalty.[/caption]

On Twitter, fellow golfers Ian Poulter, John Daly and Stewart Cink all leapt to Johnson’s defence. Poulter said he had not observed any notice in the changing rooms which was meant to inform golfers of the bunker classifications, while Cink said the course’s managers should reconsider the “bunker-ish features”.

Daly queried whether the areas considered as bunkers were manicured and maintained in the manner that more obvious sand traps would be, following up on Poulter’s observation that there were only 100 rakes on course to tend to the 1,200+ sand traps.

Ireland’s Rory McIlroy also missed out on a playoff, though was content to record his second consecutive third-place finish in a Major tournament.

After the weekend’s proceedings, both Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods will require captain’s wildcard picks in order to make the European and United States’ Ryder Cup teams respectively.