Kaymer Wins 3-Hole Playoff For First Major Golf Title

A 25-year-old German won this year's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Martin Kaymer beat out American Bubba Watson in a playoff — which followed a scoring change that took another golfer out of the top spot.

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This year's PGA Championship counts as the most compelling major golf tournament of the year, even though Tiger Woods was not anywhere near the top of the leader board at the end. He finished tied for 28th, far behind German Martin Kaymer, 25 years old, who picked up the first major win of his career. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman was following the tournament.

Tom, good morning.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Steve. How are you?

INSKEEP: This tournament is just - if you walked away a little early, as in fact I did, it's kind of unbelievable.

GOLDMAN: It is. You know, for the record, we will note that Martin Kaymer beat Bubba Watson of the U.S. in a three-hole playoff with some clutch putting and some smart strategic play at the right time. It was Kaymer's first major victory. As you mentioned, he's only 25, one of the rising stars in the game.

But his muted reaction when he won really kind of reflected how everyone responded to this playoff and the end to a wild PGA tournament. Dustin Johnson, of course, being the victim of a bad decision and some rules.

INSKEEP: Well, let's try to explain this. Dustin Johnson gets to the 18th hole of the tournament. He appears to be the leader. He's 12 under par. He has a wild final hole and still he doesn't win the tournament. He has a bogey, but he still looks like he's in the playoff to win it at the end. What happens?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, amazing. You know, he missed about a seven-footer heartbreaking - but at least he knew he was in the playoff with Kaymer and Watson. Or so he thought. So he walks a few steps. The rules official comes up, puts his hand on his shoulder - on Dustin Johnson's shoulder - and basically says something like, son, we've got a problem.

On the second shot that he hit, he did what's called grounding his club, which means the head of his club actually touched the ground in a patch of sand. Which, you know, there was grass in it, it was trampled on by spectators. It didn't look like a classic sand bunker.

But at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, where the PGA championship was played, they have over 1,000 bunkers. And the rules officials at the beginning of the week said all of those bunkers, even if they look like a little patch of sand, like the one he was hitting out of - they are officially a sand bunker and you cannot ground your club. He grounded his club and that turned out to be a two-stroke penalty. And he faded to a tie for fifth. And he was out of the playoffs.

INSKEEP: Just breathtaking. He apparently didn't realize what he was doing. The golf announcers did not realize what he had done. There was no mention of it in the telecast until later. And the people watching around the world perhaps did not quite realize it, but that official knew.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, absolutely stunning. Dustin Johnson said: Yeah, I just, you know, people were standing in this so-called bunker and just didn't seem like your classic bunker with the well-defined edges and very nice sand. But it was technically one, and the rules officials posted this at the beginning of the tournament.

Dustin Johnson admitted that he didn't read the rules carefully enough. He probably should have. But even his playing partner didn't think it was a bunker, but it was - and didn't get in that playoff. Hard story for Dustin Johnson, really, but the pros say that if anyone can come back, it's Dustin Johnson. Twenty-six years old, he's a tough guy.

INSKEEP: Well, what does it suggest, Tom Goldman, that we had this tournament, three guys battling for it at the very, very end, two of them ended up in a playoff and none of them are Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, or anybody else you would think of as being at the absolute top of the game?

GOLDMAN: Well, it means we've got some movement in the game and we've got some young emerging players, very exciting players coming to the fore.

Martin Kaymer, we mentioned. Rory McIlroy, 21, he finished tied for third, as he did at the British Open. Nick Watney, an American, 29 years old. He imploded in the final round yesterday. Finished tied for 18, after leading by three going into the final round. But he's had a very good year and another guy who looks like he's ready to emerge.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Goldman, having yet another of his very good years.

Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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