Coin flip is bitter tweet for Poulter
English Ryder Cup star loses Dubai play-off after paying penalty for dropping the ball
UNLUCKY Ian Poulter discovered in Dubai last night that the only place a professional golfer is likely to find sympathy is in the dictionary.
The climax of the "most successful season in European Tour history" was plunged into farce on the second hole of sudden death at The Dubai World Championship as Poulter fell foul of one of those bizarre rules which make non-golfers snort with derision.
Towering Swede Robert Karlsson (41) was a worthy winner of his 11th European Tour title, yet any chance Poulter had of forcing the play-off to a third hole expired when he was given a one-stroke penalty for accidentally dropping his ball onto his marker.
The Englishman's 'lucky' marker, a special platinum disc inscribed with the names of his children, turned over just once when the ball hit it but that flip of a coin 'cost' Poulter the trophy, a whopping €303,452 in prize money, plus €113,000 of Race to Dubai bonus cash and 23 world ranking points.
Significantly, it also drew an unmerciful ribbing from his colleagues on Twitter. The most amusing barb came from Rory McIlroy, who fired off this stinger to world No 1 Lee Westwood: "Poults may not have won the Dubai World Championship -- but he could be in with a shout for the tiddlywinks world title."
McIlroy was just as eloquent with his clubs on the 18th yesterday, hitting a mid-iron to three feet for a spectacular eagle and a closing 67.
This stirring effort lifted him into fifth place (worth €218,423) in the tournament, McIlroy's 11th top-10 finish of a year which yielded his first victory in the US but left the player himself unimpressed.
"Looking back on the year, I'll probably be a little disappointed," he said with a shrug. "Though I definitely think I'm on the right track.
"Hopefully 2011 will be better. Parts of this year were very good but the consistency wasn't there. I'd give it about a six out of 10, though I've learned a lot about myself, my game, where I want to play, where I want to be and what's important to me."
As Ireland's top finisher, McIlroy remains the world No 10.
Though Graeme McDowell drops to 11, there's little doubt who was the more contented of the two as they boarded a plane for Los Angeles last night and this week's Chevron World Challenge, Tiger Woods' lucrative pre-Christmas bunfight at Thousand Oaks.
McDowell's prospects of overtaking Martin Kaymer in the Race to Dubai expired over the opening 36 holes here but he brought his best-ever season to an immensely satisfying conclusion with rounds of 67 and 68 at the weekend.
The US Open champion struck the ball beautifully as he forced his way into a tie for 13th on six-under with Kaymer and six others, including Dubliner Peter Lawrie, whose earnings for the year were boosted to a career-high €845,718 by the €84,662 cheque he collected yesterday.
So Kaymer (25) is the youngest winner of the European Order of Merit since Ronan Rafferty in 1989, but there was ample consolation for McDowell as he took second place in the Race to Dubai with European earnings of €3,896,995 (including bonus).
"Last Friday was disappointing for me because I lost my head, got impatient and got frustrated with myself," said McDowell. "I really wanted to play the last 36 holes as positively as I could, so to shoot seven-under and play as well as I have this weekend makes me very proud of what I've achieved this season."
A year of rare achievement, in which he also won the Welsh Open and Andalucia Masters, has convinced the 31-year-old that he's capable one day of making it to the top of the world.
"When one of my good friends and colleagues, Lee Westwood, gets to No 1, of course I believe I can do it as well," he said.
"Yet I also know there's room for a lot of improvement in my game -- that 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."
A slipshod 76 left Padraig Harrington tied 39th (worth €39,327) with Retief Goosen. The Dubliner slipped two places to 20th in the final Order of Merit (with €1,145,016), his lowest placing since 2005.
Darren Clarke picked up a €49,431 in 28th on two-under after his closing 71, good enough for 30th place in the Race to Dubai (€892,388), clinching his ticket to next summer's British Open at Sandwich.
Yet the big winners yesterday were Kaymer and, of course, Karlsson, laid low for two months by glandular fever after January's win in Qatar but clearly back at peak form.
Karlsson played exquisitely, opening yesterday's assault with two birdies and a phenomenal eagle two at the third. He signed for a 67 and a tie with Poulter on 14-under.
They halved the first extra hole in birdie four and Karlsson looked set for victory when he hit his wedged approach to four feet next time round, while Poulter's ball came to rest 30 feet from the pin.
Yet any chance last week's Hong Kong Open-winner Poulter had of winning back-to-back titles was scotched when, after picking up his ball, he dropped it back onto the marker, in breach of Rule 20, Decision 20-1/15.
Clarke, during the PGA Championship at Wentworth in 2006, and Colin Montgomerie are prominent among those to have fallen foul of this rule and, like them, Poulter brought yesterday's transgression to the referee's attention.
But McIlroy's initial reaction on Twitter struck a chord with most golfers. "So gutted for Ian Poulter!! What a crap rule!"