Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington was disqualified from the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship on Friday after he failed to replace a ball that had moved a fraction of an inch when he picked up his marker during Thursday’s first round.
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Harrington was called in before the second round to review video replays of the incident, and accepted his disqualification after acknowledging that his ball moved ever so slightly as he was picking up his coin on the seventh green.
”It looks like it’s moved,” Harrington said. ”So I think it’s fair enough that the penalty is there on the face of it.”
Under European Tour rules, the ball must be replaced if the coin causes it to move. A failure to do so results in a two-stroke penalty, and Harrington was disqualified for signing the wrong score after putting down a 3 on the seventh hole. He finished with a 7-under 65 to sit one shot behind leader Charl Schwartzel of South Africa.
”You know what, a lot worse things could happen. You could be five ahead going into the last round,” he joked. ”Yeah, it’s disappointing. And especially you know, you just never ever … it’s an awkward situation. Every time something like this happens, you want to try and gain something from it, learn something from it.”
The Irishman said he clearly remembered the incident and that he knew he had touched the ball when picking up his coin. However, he said that ”at that moment I established that the ball hadn’t moved” and therefore didn’t call over the referee.
But tournament organizers said a television viewer e-mailed European Tour officials to point out that the ball had moved from its original lie. After reviewing slow-motion replays of the footage, Harrington said he was forced to agree to what was a violation of Rule 6-6d -signing an incorrect scorecard -because of breach of Rule 20-3a.
”This morning I came in and watched it on the TV,” he said. ”I think with an unbiased view of it, I would comfortably say 99 percent, the ball moved three dimples forward and moved back a dimple, a dimple and a half.”
European Tour referee Andy McFee said he was confident Harrington didn’t deliberately cheat, but that ”the fact that Padraig was totally unaware that this ball has moved doesn’t unfortunately help him.”
Harrington said that, in hindsight, he should have called over the referee for a ruling.
”I was well aware of the fact that I touched it,” he said. ”So I checked that the Titleist logo to align the ball was still in the same position pointing toward the target and was quite comfortable that the ball had not moved. I’m well aware of the ruling on that situation, and it’s happened many times over the years. And you know, I’m quite comfortable, if you touch a ball and it doesn’t move and you feel it hasn’t moved, it hasn’t moved, and you don’t need to replace it.”
Harrington said he was against changing the rules but said the European Tour might consider modifying the penalty so a player was not disqualified after he ”has signed his card and something has come forward that the player could not have been aware about.”
”The rules are good, we abide very well, the players love the fact that we apply them and everybody who plays the game,” he said, suggesting a player could be penalized after the fact. ”We love the standard that we play by. When we have to stick to that, that’s the best thing about our game.”
Harrington’s disqualification is the latest to be sparked by a viewer.
Earlier this month, Camilo Villegas was disqualified for a rules violation that a television viewer called in after the opening round at Hawaii.
Villegas was chipping up the slope to the 15th green when the ball twice rolled back toward him. The second time, Villegas walked over and casually swatted away some loose pieces of grass in front of the divot as the ball was still moving down the slope.
That is a violation of Rule 23-1 that says, ”When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed.” The penalty is two shots. Villegas opened with a 72, and he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
He handled the disqualification with grace but not all golfers were happy. Ian Poulter, who lost a playoff at the Dubai World Championship after being penalized for dropping the ball on his marker, wasn’t so kind.
”An armchair official tweeted in to get Camilo DQ, what is wrong with people have they got nothing better to do,” he tweeted back then. ”Yes, the rules r the rules it was a mistake on Camilo’s behalf, he didn’t know he had done wrong, but people calling in, no 1 likes a snitch.”
But Harrington on Friday said he saw nothing wrong with viewers having a role in keeping golfer’s honest.
”I’m comfortable with the whole idea that there’s people there watching, and I believe when I’m on the golf course I’m not going to do anything untoward,” he said. ”I hope that this many people watch The European Tour. I hope there’s 100 million people watching me play and checking me out. It’s good for the game.”