- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- It is perhaps fitting that Carl Pettersson, standing in a sandy area where he could not be penalized for grounding his club, managed to get a 2-stroke penalty for touching a different area with his club where it was not allowed.
If that sounds confusing, well, the entire week at the Ocean Course was a bit disjointed, with searing heat followed by blustery winds followed by a weather-interrupted third round and then a long final day that concluded with Rory McIlroy leading the entire final 18 holes.
We'll never really know for sure if things would have been different for Pettersson at the PGA Championship if he weren't slapped with a highly controversial 2-stroke penalty on the very first hole in Round 4.
He ended up finishing 9 strokes behind McIlroy -- who won by a record 8 shots -- and in a tie for third place. So had he not incurred the penalty, you could certainly argue it would have only closed the gap to seven.
Still, when he completed the first hole with what he thought was a par, Pettersson was only 3 strokes back of McIlroy. And while he did manage to birdie three consecutive holes on the front nine, he still found himself four back due to the penalty and was unable to sustain the pace.
"I've got to take it on the chin, obviously," said Pettersson, who lost more than $481,500 because of the penalty. "It's one of those stupid rules, like Webb Simpson [at the 2011 Zurich Classic] where the ball moves a half millimeter and it's a penalty. I didn't even realize I moved it because I'm trying to hit the ball."
What Pettersson moved was a leaf, and that's all it took for him to be in violation of Rule 13-4c. Technically, he moved a loose impediment lying in a lateral hazard. Pettersson didn't dispute the eventual ruling, just lamented the fact that such a benign violation was so damaging.
Before playing the shot from the right of the first fairway, Pettersson asked walking official Brad Gregory if he was allowed to touch grass in the hazard with his club prior to the stroke. He was allowed to, provided he did not ground the club in the hazard. But in making his backswing, Pettersson's club brushed the grass behind the ball (which is allowed) and at the same time moved a leaf (the loose impediment). The latter is what caused the rules violation.
Officials studied it on replay and determined a 2-shot penalty was in order. Pettersson had been told he might be in violation and it was made official on the fourth tee.
"It made me more motivated," he said. "I got a little fired up and made some birdies in a row there. I came back.
"But there was only one winner today, really. Rory played great. I played good enough on the front nine. Who knows what would have happened?"
And that is where the rules issue comes into play. Despite the ruling, Pettersson birdied the third, fourth and fifth holes to get to 5-under par. He was four behind McIlroy, but would have been just two behind without the penalty.
Perhaps McIlroy would have felt more pressure, although he was getting it from Ian Poulter, who began the final round on fire, making five straight birdies to start and six in his first seven holes. But Poulter bogeyed the eighth and could never again get closer than 3 shots to McIlroy. Poulter ended up bogeying four of his last six holes to shoot 69.
"I've never had a better start,'' the Englishman said. "I couldn't want to get off to any kind of a better start in a major. Certainly not when you have to go out there and play well. I mean, six of the first seven holes making birdie.
"I put myself in position, which was great. I couldn't ask for a better nine holes. I guess I ran out of a little bit of steam coming around the turn, 13, 14, 15. I came unstuck right there. It was a great day. I hit a lot of good golf shots and it's just a shame I couldn't quite finish it off."
Poulter ended up in a tie for third along with Pettersson, Keegan Bradley and Justin Rose. And the result helped move him into one of the 10 automatic European Ryder Cup team positions with two qualifying events to go.