PGA Championship: Kaymer wins his first major title after Bubba plays dumb in 3-hole playoff

August 15, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Bubba Watson‘s testosterone count got the best of him late Sunday afternoon at the PGA Championship and it cost him a shot at the title.

Dustin Johnson‘s reluctance to read the rules sheet distributed by the PGA of America robbed him of a chance to win.

And Germany’s Martin Kaymer turned out to be the beneficiary of both gaffes, as Kaymer played the 3-hole aggregrate playoff in even-par and captured the year’s final major golf championship at Whistling Straits.

Kaymer and Watson both finished regulation play at -11 and were seemingly joined by Johnson after the latter missed an 8-foot par putt at #18 in regulation that would have – we thought – given him the title.  Instead, some 20 chaotic minutes later, Johnson was assessed a 2-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the 18th hole and he finished the event tied for 5th at 9-under par.

Years from now, people will be talking about the 2010 PGA Championship and how Dustin Johnson got burned by a stupid rule.

What they should talk about is how Watson played the final playoff hole like a guy trying to win the second flight of the club championship at your local country club.

After nearly driving the first playoff hole (#10), Bubba took advantage of his prodigious length off the tee and slipped in a 3-foot birdie putt to take a quick one shot lead on Kaymer, who only made into the playoff by virtue of a gutsy 15-foot par effort at the 72nd hole.  Kaymer then retaliated on the 2nd playoff hole – #17 – when he coaxed in a 12-foot birdie try and the two competitors were deadlocked heading into the final hole.

And that’s when Watson went stupid on us.

Kaymer’s drive buzzed through the fairway and into a bad lie in the right rough.  Watson drove next and double crossed one that ended up about 15 yards behind the German’s ball but in much better position in the rough.  With options galore, including laying up to 100 yards left or 50 yards right, the left-handed Watson eschewed all golfing wisdom and tried to drill a 5-iron from 225 yards into a green so narrow it would be like landing the ball on the hood of your car.

And that was the shot that lost him the golf tournament.

It bounded into the water surrounding the front and side of the green – some 30 yards short – and gave Kaymer the option of doing just about anything to ensure his bogey five.  He gently laid up, hitting his 2nd shot only about 50 yards, and had 165 yards into the hole for his 3rd, where he promptly hit 7-iron to 15 feet.

Watson made a mess of it from there, dropping in the heavy rough in front of the green, pitching his 4th into the back bunker, then nearly holing his sand shot before settling for a playoff-ending double six.  Kaymer two-putted for the win.

I don’t know what’s worse:  grounding your club in a bunker and missing the playoff or handing your opponent the title on a silver platter by trying to make HIM hit a great shot when the lie he had for his second wouldn’t have allowed for it anyway.  From the moment he saw his ball, Kaymer was going to play it safe.  And probably make bogey-5.  All Watson had to do was give himself a putt at a four at the worst.  The only thing he COULDN’T do there was make 6.  By hitting his 2nd to a comfortable lay-up distance, Watson would have had 100 yards or less into the green and could have approached the pin from either the right or the left.

Watson backed away from his 2nd shot at the 3rd playoff hole not once, but twice, and both times he seemed uncertain as to whether or not he could get the ball onto the green given the lie and his angle to the pin.  Both times his caddie stepped in for a settle-down session, but he wasn’t able to wrestle that 5-iron out of Bubba’s hands.

A lay-up there would have put both players in similar situations — hitting their 3rd from 160’ish range — and the whole event could have turned out differently for Watson.

It’s tough to tell a race horse not to run fast and it’s tough to tell a TOUR player in a playoff for a major championship not to hit “that shot” because, well, it might not come off as expected.  But the smart players make the right decisions and the players who do it with a wing and a prayer get burned for their rambunctious nature, like Watson did today.

Afterwards, Bubba defended his sloppy shot and the decision to go for the green on the 3rd playoff hole by saying, “I play to win, not lay-up and finish 2nd.”  (I doubt anyone in the media room pointed out to him that “playing to win” earned him 2nd place.)

Players who don’t read the rules sheet provided to them at the outset of the tournament also get burned, which is how Dustin Johnson went from hero to goat in the span of 20 minutes.

His blunder, though, was at least somewhat excusable, since the players very rarely read the information given to them.  A rules official is with every group  at a major championship and the players usually just lean on them for rules advice if a questionable situation arises on the course.  On this occasion, Johnson just moved into the bunker — assumed it was some sort of waste area that had been beaten down by foot traffic — and grounded his club prior to making his backswing.  Had he read the rules sheet handed out to every player upon check-in, he would have seen it clearly marked:  all sand traps ARE considered hazards, regardless of their placement on the golf course.  Had he summoned a rules official before entering the bunker, he could have asked the appropriate question(s) about the bunker and proceeded accordingly.

History will spell out that Martin Kaymer beat Bubba Watson in a playoff for the 2010 PGA Championship.  What the record books won’t show is that Waton gift-wrapped the event with a gamble on the 3rd playoff hole that he didn’t have to take.