DUBAI // A blunder by Ian Poulter cost the Englishman US$400,000 (Dh1.469 million) and handed Robert Karlsson the Dubai World Championship in a dramatic finale at the Earth Course yesterday.
Poulter and Karlsson were locked in a play-off on the 18th hole after both finished at 14 under following four rounds.
After the European pair had played the 18th for the second time in impeccable fashion to set up tap-in birdies, they played it for the third time and Poulter left himself with a massive 40-foot putt while Karlsson's chip to the green landed within four feet of the pin.
But as the flamboyant English golfer marked his ball it slipped from his grasp and fell on the marker, which jumped in the air and turned over.
Andy McFee, the tournament's chief referee, reported that Poulter had confessed the foul immediately.
"He called me over and told me that he had dropped his ball on his ball marker which caused the marker to move - it just flipped over. Ian's ensuing 30ft putt [which he missed] was therefore for a five."
"It was a bizarre way to lose the tournament," said Poulter, who had begun what turned into a captivating final day holding a two-stroke lead. He was, with some justification, confident of securing back-to-back victories after his triumph in Hong Kong last weekend.
Karlsson had other ideas. The Swede, who had led the 60-man event after Thursday's first round, began his final round in eye-catching fashion.
"When you start birdie, birdie, eagle and the eagle is on a par four it is not what you expect when you are three shots behind," said the man who completes a Middle East double after his success last January in the Qatar Masters. "But it's not always that easy."
The Swede gave back two of those shots before the turn but three more birdies on the way home gave him a second successive 67 to ensure that Poulter needed to snatch a birdie on one of the final two holes to regain the lead.
Poulter could only par the short but difficult 17th and could not get up the long closing hole in two to set up a more straightforward birdie chance than his single putt from 15 feet presented.
Then came the drama in the play-off.
The Swede, who has suffered eyesight and injury problems since winning the European Order of Merit on the last day of the 2008 season, was aware of the technicality that had destroyed Poulter's hopes before he prepared to sink his own clinching putt which earned him a winner's cheque of US$1.26m.
"Obviously my putt looked quite a bit shorter after that," said the new champion who climbs 15 places in the Race to Dubai to finish sixth (worth $450,000 from the bonus pool) behind Martin Kaymer, the new European No 1
Lee Westwood, who won the tournament 12 months ago when he was also crowned first winner of the Race to Dubai, came up a single shot short of joining the play-off, as did Alvaro Quiros, the big hitting Spaniard.
Just behind them was Rory McIlroy who played the last five holes in four under par - including a brilliant eagle at the last - to finish on his own in fifth place, a stroke ahead of Paul Casey and Francesco Molinari.