Here is the incident for which Padraig was penalised in Abu Dhabi. As he did not replace the ball, which was judged to have moved forward as he was picking up his marker, he then played it from a wrong place, Rule 20-7(ii), even though it was only a question of millimetres. This breach incurs a penalty of two strokes, but because he signed and returned a score card that did not include the penalty, the only option open to tournament referee, Andy McFee, was to disqualify him.
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 He was later quoted as saying;
"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. 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."This is yet another unfortunate occurrence that will no doubt feed fuel to those that argue that the Rules of Golf are unfair, draconian and out of touch, and that players that are subject to television scrutiny are at a disadvantage to those that are not so closely monitored. As you will know from my previous blogs, this is not my opinion and I prefer to concentrate on the positives. Yet again we see that golfers are different to almost any other professional sports players. Padraig Harrington accepted his fate without complaint, as did Camilo Villegas two weeks ago, and many others before them. His detailed explanation of the circumstances of the penalty can be viewed at this link following a short advertisement.
Edit (April 2011) The R&A and USGA Announce Score Card Rules Revision. Click on this link for details.
Another positive arising from this latest incident is that it has highlighted the Rule that when a player moves their ball accidentally they must replace it at the spot where it was when they moved it, even if it was still marked (Rule 18-2). Every high-profile Rules situation increases golfers’ understanding of the particular ruling involved.
Ironically, another Irishman was involved in a very similar Rules situation during the same opening round of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. A television viewer reported that Graeme McDowell’s club had moved his ball as he addressed it to hit into the 18th green. On this occasion, the television evidence showed that although he had touched his ball it did not move off its spot and therefore no penalty was incurred, Rule 18-2(i). I know that many readers disagree with on-course spectators and television viewers being able to affect a player’s score by reporting breaches that the players did not know they incurred, or did not report. But these two incidents show the complete equity of the situation. The player that did breach the Rules was penalised and the one that did not was not. I stand by my opinion that in golf, anyone who breaches the Rules, whether or not they are aware of it, should incur the penalty. It is not a question of whether they benefited or not in the particular circumstances. This becomes subjective, which can then lead to arguments. A breach is a breach and is penalised accordingly.
Finally, I am sad to report that only the third player in the European Tour’s history has been sanctioned for ‘cheating’; the first for almost 19 years. Elliot Saltman, a 28-year-old Scottish professional, was banned from competition for three months by a disciplinary panel, including several senior players, after he was found guilty of a "serious breach" of the Rules. During a Challenge Tour event in Russia last September he repeatedly replaced his ball on a slightly different spot from where he had marked it and this was reported by the two fellow competitors playing with him. He may appeal the decision.
Play to the Rules, there is no other way.
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