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Johnson misses playoff after rule breach

Updated: 2010-08-16 09:56
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Johnson misses playoff after rule breach
Dustin Johnson (L) of the U.S. walks with a rules official on the 18th green at the conclusion of regulation play during the final round of the 92nd PGA Golf Championship at Whistling Straits, in Kohler, Wisconsin, August 15, 2010. Johnson was given a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club on a shot on the hole.  [Photo/Agencies]

KOHLER, Wisconsin - American Dustin Johnson was inconsolable after a rule infringement cost him a spot in a playoff for the U.S. PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on Sunday.

Justin finished the tournament in a three-way tie with compatriot Bubba Watson and eventual winner Martin Kaymer of Germany at 11-under par 277 but was relegated to joint fifth after being penalised two shots for grounding his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole.

Johnson admitted he had grounded his club but said he did not realise his ball was in a bunker.

"It never once crossed my mind that I was in a sand trap," he said in a televised interview.

"I just thought I was on a piece of dirt that the crowd had trampled down. I never thought I was in a sand trap."

The confusion came after Johnson's errant drive landed outside the spectator ropes on flat ground. As he approached his ball, the lip of the bunker was not immediately obvious because of the crowd gathered around him and he grounded his club before playing his next shot.

"Obviously I know the Rules of Golf, and I can't ground my club in a bunker, but that was just one situation I guess. Maybe I should have looked to the rule sheet a little harder," he said.

It is a common rule in golf for players to be penalised for grounding their club in a bunker but the Whistling Straits course, located on the foreshores of Lake Michigan but designed like links courses in Britain and Ireland, is unique because it has around 1200 bunkers in varying sizes and designs.

Some are flat and do not look like traditional bunkers but to clarify the rules before the tournament began, organisers issued a statement confirming that every bunker, regardless of size or position, would be treated the same. The notice was posted in the players' locker room.

"All areas of the course that were designed and built as sand bunkers will be played as bunkers (hazards) whether or not they have been raked," the statement said.

"This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside of the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints and tire tracks during the play of the Championship.

"Such irregularities of surface are a part of the game and no free relief will be available from these conditions."

Johnson was unaware he had breached the rules until he was approached by Mark Wilson, co-chairman of the PGA of America rules committee, immediately after he finished his round.

Johnson had led by one shot at the start of the 18th but made a bogey five, missing a putt that would have left him in front and was preparing for a playoff when he was called in to speak with the committee.

"He was obviously very disappointed but I've dealt with some difficult rule situations in the 30 or so years that I've been working the Rules of Golf," Wilson said.

"I certainly have to say that I didn't expect him to be happy, but I will certainly say that he was a gentleman, he handled himself very well."

When news of the penalty was announced, boos rang out around the course.

It was another cruel blow for Johnson, who was chasing his first major title win after spectacularly blowing a three-shot lead on the last day of this year's U.S. Open.

"If it was up to me, I wouldn't have thought I was in the bunker but it's not up to me, it's up to the Rules Committee, so (I've) got to deal with it," Johnson said.

"We looked on the TV and I definitely grounded my club, which, I mean, I never denied.

"I guess the only worse thing that could have happened is if I made that putt on the last hole."

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