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Wild finish far from most exciting event at Quail Hollow

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's nobody's fault, of course.

For a while now, there's been an odd cloud that has intermittently hovered over the Wells Fargo Championship. One year, Tiger Woods' father died, and another, he was out with a knee injury. This week, Hall of Famer Seve Ballesteros, the most significant figure in European Tour history, passed away in Spain. Much of the week, the disciplinary status of controversial lightning rod Rory Sabbatini was being bandied about at great length.

Huh, there was a tournament here this week? No worry. On Sunday, there was so much going on at the Quail Hollow Club, you needed a swivel for a neck and a DVR to possibly track it all.

After a week in which everything but the golf on the course was dissected, the final round was full of intrigue, plot developments, multiple rules issues -- and then poster-boy problem child Sabbatini almost sneaked in and stole the title. And some folks thought the 10-under 62 in the final round last year by Rory McIlroy was memorable, or that the Masters last month had a schizophrenic ending?

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By the time it ended, two former college teammates at Clemson went extra innings, with Lucas Glover finally outlasting longtime friend Jonathan Byrd on the first extra hole to win his first PGA Tour title since the 2009 U.S. Open.

As though the insanely rotating cast on the leaderboard wasn't entertaining enough -- Glover took the lead outright with an eagle on the ninth -- things took a decidedly fast turn for the weird when Padraig Harrington was very nearly disqualified for a rules imbroglio on the 13th tee when a fan claimed he had teed off from inside the markers on the hole.

Harrington has been called onto the carpet for rules issues about as often as Sabbatini has been hauled into the principal's office to explain his behavior. A month ago at the Masters, the USGA and R&A effectively changed a rule because of an issue he had earlier this season on the European Tour, when he was DQ'd after his ball moved on a putting green and he failed to notice. It's almost hilarious, but Harrington has the R&A logo stitched on his left shirtsleeve and is the rulemaking organization's global ambassador.

Gee, and we thought the Irish were popular in the States? Harrington and his caddie, Ronan Flood, and playing partner Phil Mickelson were loaded into a golf cart and hauled into the CBS broadcast trailer to review a videotape of the alleged incident. Because Harrington had already finished the hole, he was facing disqualification -- and he finished in a tie for ninth, his second-best result this year in the States.

Padraig Harrington (middle) sorts out his tee-box confusion with Phil Mickelson and rules offical Ronan Flood. (Getty Images)  
Padraig Harrington (middle) sorts out his tee-box confusion with Phil Mickelson and rules offical Ronan Flood. (Getty Images)  
Harrington and Mickelson insisted the Irishman had teed off in the proper location -- he even moved the ball back a few inches after initially placing a peg in the ground just to be safe -- and no penalty was assessed. But it took nearly an hour to sort out, and the players and their caddies had to revisit the 13th tee to look for Harrington's old divot.

Glover's caddie, Don Cooper looked over from another hole on the back nine when somebody said, "What's Padraig Harrington doing on the 13th tee?" The conclusion? Can't be Harrington. He was playing 10 groups ahead of Glover.

Harrington has had so many rules issues over the years, including getting disqualified from a tournament he was leading days after he forgot to sign his card, he must be feeling absolutely persecuted by now. Well, anybody but Harrington would, anyway.

"It's not an Irish thing, it's a Harrington thing," he laughed. "[Paul] McGinley said years ago, Harrington's the only guy who can turn a one-shot penalty into a two-shot penalty."

That was mere prelude to the last few minutes, when there was a very real chance that Sabbatini could have won for the second time this year as a lengthy suspension was being considered by tour brass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. If there was a loud whooshing sound heard at your house at around 6 p.m. Sunday night emanating from the Southeast, it was an army of tour VPs exhaling simultaneously when Sabbo finished a shot out of the playoff.

Tuesday and Wednesday, Sabbatini's heated, profane argument with fellow veteran Sean O'Hair had dominated the tournament coverage, especially since it was the feisty South African's second disciplinary issue of the spring. In March, he won the Honda Classic as a suspension was being considered for an incident on the West Coast Swing, though he wasn't ultimately benched.

Given the PGA Tour's laughably outdated policy of declining to comment on any issue involving disciplinary matters -- because tour players never get in trouble -- a victory by Sabbatini would have dragged out the discussion of his almost certain, impending suspension into a second week as the tour prepares for its flagship event this week at the Players Championship.

Think that thermonuclear public-relations disaster wasn't on their small minds? When Sabbatini, who was tied for the lead on the back nine, finished and Glover and Byrd were grinding out their final holes, a tour official cautioned media members that questions would be limited to golf-specific queries only.

Perfect. Instead of giving his side of the story, or announcing the sanctions and getting it over with like virtually every other big-league sports entity, the Sabbo conversation is sure to last into next week, if not well beyond. Instead of yanking Sabbatini's leash and controlling their player, they're going to yank a media credential?

The twists and turns went down to the 72nd hole, when Glover's drive sailed left over trees and a creek before coming to rest on a steep slope, against the posterior of a seated male fan who remained frozen until tour rules official Tony Wallin arrived. When the fan stood, Glover's ball rolled down the slippery slope and they had to replace the ball by hand in its original spot to get it to remain in place.

For a minute, anyway. As Glover addressed the ball, he made sure not to sole the club, and the ball rolled off a clump of grass down the hill into a flatter lie in deeper grass. Since he didn't cause it to move, he played from there. Glover joked that Wallin said, "That's your new lie, have fun."

From the new position, he bombed the ball over the green, made a dicey par putt from seven feet and then edged his former college mate 30 minutes later on the first extra hole. Before the third round, Glover had walked past Byrd on the practice tee and said they should try to jointly play well to ensure a pairing in the final round at around 2 p.m., which is traditionally when the leaders tee off.

"Instead, it was 6 o'clock," Glover cracked, meaning the playoff.

A trio of Clemson coaches hosted a party earlier in the week at a home on the 15th hole, so it was fitting there was another get-together on Sunday night in sudden death. The two played at Clemson for three years and butted heads as teenage juniors. Glover estimated he has played hundreds of rounds with Byrd, in fact, dating back to before they could shave.

Speaking of which, the shag carpet on Glover's face -- he started a full beard in the fall and hasn't shaved since -- is starting to get some serious street cred. Midway through the round, world No. 1 Lee Westwood, watching the tournament on TV overseas, tweeted, "Fear the beard!"

Which is the same phrase that a handful of fraternity kids painted on some T-shirts this week and wore on the course in support of the Greenville, S.C., resident. The shirts were painted at the home where Glover is staying this week, and when he saw them enter the garage with a bucket of orange paint and the blank white shirts, he held his breath.

"I was pleased when they turned out that tame," he laughed.

Might have been the only thing about the day that was.

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