Padraig Harrington’s dream start to the season turned into nightmare this morning when trial by television resulted in his disqualification from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship for a rules infringement in the first round.
The Dubliner, who had opened with a seven under par 65 to lie just a stroke off the lead in solo second place, found himself out in the cold after reviewing TV pictures that showed that he had moved his ball in the act of replacing it on the seventh green and then failed to re-mark it.
Reported by a TV viewer, the three time major winner nudged his ball “three dimples” forward when he was in the process of removing his coin. But he was forced to accept, after 30 minutes in the TV truck, that while it had rolled back towards its original position, it had only rocked back “a dimple and a half.”
That’s less than 0.03cm, making this the first case of dimples failing to raise a smile on anyone’s face.
Had Harrington re-marked his ball after inadvertently moving it in the act of marking or replacing it, he would not have incurred a penalty. However, as he did not, he should have added two strokes to his score for the hole and put down a five instead of a par three.
Disqualified therefore for signing for a wrong score, he became the third high profile player to suffer the rigors of golf’s rule book in recent months following the disqualification of Camilo Villegas in Hawii two weeks ago and Ian Poulter’s costly penalty in the Dubai World Championship play-off last November, where he dropped his ball on his marker and flipped it over.
Harrington said: “I was aware I hit the ball picking up my coin. I looked down at the time and was pretty sure it had just oscillated and had not moved, so I continued on.
“In slow motion it’s pretty clear the ball has moved three dimples forward and it’s come back maybe a dimple and a half.
“At the end of the day that’s good enough, but I wouldn’t have done anything differently yesterday - there was nothing I could do about it at that moment in time.
“If I’d called a referee over it would have been pointless because if he’d asked me where my ball was I’d have said it was there. As far as I was concerned it didn’t move.”
Putting on a brave face, he added: “I’ll get three days of practice ahead of me, which is something I’ll enjoy doing anyway.”
Just as was the case with Villegas’ disqualification from the opening event of the PGA Tour season in Hawaii two weeks ago, Harrington’s actions were reported by a TV viewer.
His case is also sure to revive calls for a review of the rules. Last November, Poulter lost a play-off for the Dubai World Championship after he dropped his ball on his marker and it flipped over, incurring a penalty that effectively ended his contest with Robert Karlsson.
It is the second time that the Irish star has been disqualified in an event he had a great chance of winning though this time his elimination from the field came early.
In 2000, he led the Benson and Hedges International at the Belfry by five strokes entering the final round only to be disqualified before the start on Sunday when officials were made aware that he had failed to sign his first round scorecard.
On both occasions, Harrington has heard the bad news from senior referee Andy McFee, who explained that he was made aware of the possible infraction on Thursday evening.
“I got an email from the Tour feedback site just before six o’clock last night,” McFee explained. “I managed to get a look and knew immediately we had an issue. I got all members of the rules committee to look at the tape.
“Because everything was closing down I decided to sleep on it and speak to Padraig first thing this morning.
“It’s a minute movement, but it’s a movement and he never replaced it, so he should have included a two-stroke penalty.
“The fact that he is unaware he moved the ball unfortunately does not help him. Because he signed for a score lower than actually taken the penalty is disqualification.”
Harrington’s infraction eleven years ago only came to light when the host venue was trying to frame his first round score card and noticed two signatures from Harrington’s marker, the New Zealander Michael Campbell, but not the player’s.
Harrington was devastated but did not blame anyone but himself. “At least it made it into a better tournament,” he said. Instead of starting five behind, Jose Maria Olazabal and Phil Price began as joint leaders with the Spaniard scoring a second successive 66 to win by three strokes.