Sweden’s Robert Karlsson won the Dubai World Championship Sunday, defeating Golf World columnist Ian Poulter in a playoff after a bizarre marking blunder by the Englishman on the final hole.
Karlsson calmly rolled in a birdie putt on the second playoff hole after Poulter was given a one-stroke penalty for dropping his ball on his marker on the green, causing it to flip over and move from its original position.
“The coin was one way and the next minute facing the other way,” Poulter said. “It’s pitched right on the front and flipped over. If it pitches in the middle, the coin doesn’t move and it’s fine.”
Poulter spotted his error and reported it to the match referee, whose ruling left him with a long putt for par instead of a birdie. The putt came up a foot short, taking all the pressure off Karlsson. He then had two shots to clinch the victory in the season-ending $7.5 million tournament.
The 41-year-old Karlsson needed just one shot to secure his second European Tour victory this year and his 11th tour victory of his career. The former European No. 1 said it was one of his biggest victories his career, earning him $1.25 million.
Karlsson made his third straight birdie on the 18th green, having caught up to Poulter on the last hole in regulation when his approach shot landed within a few feet of the pin. He rolled that in to close with a 5-under 67 and a 14-under total of 274.
Karlsson was aware of the penalty before Poulter putted on the second playoff hole, and said he would prefer not won in that fashion.
“These things happen in golf. It’s not the way you want to win,” he said. “The rules are there for a reason but some of them can be tough.”
Poulter had a birdie putt for the victory at the 18th, but missed it to finish at 70 in regulation. That forced the playoff, where both players birdied the first hole.
“Six inches short of the hole, I would have probably put my house on it,” Poulter said of his final putt in regulation. “But it slows down and takes a little bit of grain and misses. Obviously, a little disappointed.”
Karlsson led after the first round but followed it up with a 75 on Friday to seemingly fall out of contention. But he recovered with consecutive rounds of 67, and started Sunday with consecutive birdies. His second shot on the par-4 third landed on the green and rolled in for an eagle.
He had two more birdies on the back nine before a fine approach shot almost hit the pin on the 18th, spun back and landed within a few feet of the hole.
Poulter came into the final round seemingly in control, with a two shot lead over Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee and fellow Englishman Ross Fisher. He had the momentum, having won last week’s Hong Kong Open.
He struggled on the first nine with a bogey and only one birdie. But the 34-year-old settled down on the back nine, scoring consecutive birdies and making two pressure par putts on the 16th and 17th.
But with the title on the line, he couldn’t sink a birdie putt on the 18th and struggled in the playoff.
Karlsson wasn’t in the mix until the final holes, while several players made an unsuccessful run at leader Poulter until the Swede tied him on the 18th.
Top-ranked Lee Westwood (68) came up a shot short after his approach shot to the 18th green landed in the water. Alvaro Quiros of Spain (67) missed an eagle putt on the 18th that would have pulled him into the lead. Westwood and Quiros each finished one stroke behind the leaders in regulation.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy had an eagle on the 18th to pull within two shots of the lead, finishing with a 67.
Martin Kaymer of Germany (72) beat out Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell (68) for the European money titles. They tied for 13th with 6-under totals of 282, but McDowell needed to finish in the top three to win the money title.
Given the star-studded leaderboard that included the likes of Westwood, Karlsson’s heroics came as a bit of a surprise. He came into the tournament admitting his confidence was not high, following outings in Singapore where he finished 115th and before that 34th in China.
Still, he said Thursday that he felt the course suited him and that he was starting to hit the ball well. He also said he finally had put his medical problems behind him, after suffering a bout of glandular fever in the spring that kept him out two months and a debilitating eye problem last year. He said he has been fit since June.
“I would say probably Memphis was the tournament I felt where I really started feeling good, but obviously it’s a bit of a buildup, and especially being off for a while and not playing that great for a while,” he said. “So the more often you are there, the more calm you are under the circumstances.”
Though he was devastated by the turn of events, Poulter admitted it was scintillating day of golf with some of the best in Europe all in the mix.
“Looking at the board all the way around, Robert got off to an incredible start, birdie, birdie, eagle,” Poulter said. “Westy made a late charge. It was good fun the whole way around.
“I felt good, hit lots of good golf shots. I made a couple of key up and downs at the right time. But, you know what, you’re left walking away disappointed.”