Damien McGrane complicated an already difficult season when he failed to read a local rule and was disqualified in the opening round of the Alstom Open de France.
The Meath man, who was ranked a lowly 103rd in the Race to Dubai standings starting the week, was one of four players given their marching orders by Chief Referee Andy McFee for taking an incorrect drop on the water-protected, par-four 18th.
Rikard Karlberg, Jaco Van Zyl and James Ruebotham were the others found guilty of committing a serious breach of the water hazard rules on the last.
Bemused by the mistakes made by the professionals in question, McFee said: “We’ve had four disqualifications resulting from players taking an incorrect drop on the 18th hole. In all cases, the players have advanced to use a drop zone when they were not entitled to under the local rule.
“The local rule is very clear - the drop zone can only be used on hole 18 if the last point of entry is beyond a green stake which has been inserted there. And it is not a small stake, it is four foot high and very visible.
“Players have in some cases hit the ball into the water and advanced 40 or 50 yards to a drop zone. Now something has to twig in your mind that something is not quite right there. And it is not just hidden away in the local rules. It is in three times the size of the print in capital letters and underlined.
“We also have a rules advisory which has been out all week and widely circulated, which has says exactly the same thing - that the drop zone at the 18th can only be used if the last point of entry is beyond this green stake.”
McGrane was unaware he had breached the rule and was only informed he had been disqualified more than an hour after he had signed his card.
However, he admitted that he didn’t have a leg to stand on as he hadn’t read the local rules sheet.
“I didn’t read the notices and my caddie misinterpreted them,” McGrane said.
The banishment of the quartet was the biggest on tour for 11 years. In 1990, six players were disqualified in the first round of the AGF Open at La Grand Motte in Montpellier for removing out of bound posts that were considered immovable objects.
The situation brought back memories of Dustin Johnson’s costly mistake on the 72d hole in the final round of last year’s US PGA at Whistling Straits, when he grounded his club in a bunker he believed was a waste aread and missed out of a play-off for the title. Again, he failed to read a local rules sheet that was widely circulated.
McFee was astounded that players would not read the local rules properly and amazed at their misinterpretations.
He said: “It is never relevant where your ball finishes up in the water hazard, it always talks about where the ball last crossed the margin of the hazard. So that is what has happened. I am obviously not happy with the fact that we have had four disqualifications but I am not altogether sure what we could have done.”
The incidents occured during the morning wave and while McFee put an official on duty on the hole for much of the afternoon, he did not feel he was being unfair to those in the early part of the draw.
“It is an awkward hole to mark and we have marked it exactly the same as last year when we had zero disqualifications. We’ve widely circulated what we have done and 78 people have completed this morning and we have had four DQ’s, so 74 people have had no issues.
“I don’t have enough referees to place somebody on the hole permanently. I am doing now for the rest of the day but he won’t be there all the time because he has other holes to cover.”
McGrane had signed for a one over par 72 that would have left him seven strokes behind leaders Richard Green of Australia and England’s Graeme Storm, who opened with 65s to lead by a shot from Dane Thorbjørn Olesen, England’s James Morrison and South African George Coetzee.
Gareth Maybin hit just eight greens but needed only 25 putts to card a one under par 70 to head the Irish challenge in a tied for 23rd place.
Paul McGinley scrambled well to lie a shot further back after a 71 with Michael Hoey just inside the cut mark after a 72. However, it was a frustrating day for the rest of the Irish brigade.
Darren Clarke’s mental frailties were there for all to see as he followed an outward half of 34 with a homeward 41 for a disappointing 75.
The damage was done when he three-putted for bogey at the 10th and then double bogeyed the 12th. Frustrated to undo his good work, he then bogeyed the 15th and doubled the next on an afternoon to forget.
Shane Lowry’s US Open hangover continued when he had just one birdie against eight bogeys in a seven over 78. He missed nine greens but saved par just once and took 32 putts.
Having missed the cut in last week’s BMW International Open and in the US Open at Congressional, it will take a sensational effort to avoid a third missed cut on the trot.