In dramatic circumstances, Padraig Harrington was disqualified from the Benson and Hedges International Open for not signing his card on Thursday. Just minutes before he was due to tee off in the final round holding a five shot lead over Phillip Price and Jose Maria Olazabal, tournament Director Andy McFee approached the Dubliner and asked him to point out his signature on the card, it was not there.
Harrington was playing the best golf of his four-year career this week at the prestigious Benson and Hedges International Open and it would have been his biggest win. He outplayed everyone over the first three days and it was his tournament to lose. But the Dubliner, who had seven second place finishes before he won again in Brazil, could not believe that he of all people could make such a basic error not signing his card.
A devastated Harrington said: “I am obviously very disappointed and it is a bit of a shock. I rang all my family and as I was on the phone, I felt like I was ringing around as if there had been a death”
“Because of my accountancy training, I am normally meticulous when it comes to checking my card. I am always the last of the three guys to leave the scorers hut because I check my card four, five or six times. But two signatures is all you look for really and I just went with that. I have to live by the rules and that is the way it goes”.
Senior Tournament director Andy McFee had the unenviable job of informing Harrington while he was on the range, practising for his final round and hoping to win his second event in three starts on the European Tour.
McFee explained the situation, which arose the morning of the final round: “Basically, what happened was the Belfry spoke to us this morning to ask if we could get the cards of all the potential winners so they could frame them and put them on the wall. In the process of doing this, our staff noticed that Padraig Harrington’s card for round one, while it had two signatures on it, neither was his”.
“Harrington was playing with Jamie Spence and Michael Campbell during the first round and nowhere on that card was an attestation that that score of 71 in round one is correct by Padraig. Unfortunately, that is a direct breach of rule 6.6b and the only penalty is disqualification”. Said McFee.
The situation is unclear as to how it happened and why the European Tour staff missed the error too. But what is believed to have happened is that as the players moved their cards around on the recorders table, for whatever reason, Michael Campbell had signed three cards and although there were two signatures on Harrington’s card, none of them belonged to the Irishman.
“Obviously, what has happened was that the three of us are sitting on the table and the marker passes the card across and the card only got half way. Michael saw a blank space and signed it. That’s what you do. When I got the card, I checked the scores, checked that there was two signatures and that is the way it is”.
But Harrington does not blame anyone but himself for his mistake. The luckless Irishman took the news better than anyone expected and realises that it was his mistake alone that cost him the chance of his second win in three starts and £166,000 in prize-money.
“I don’t expect the recorder to be any more proficient at her job than mine. I’m certainly not going to blame her for not spotting it. She just checks that there are two signatures, unfortunately, Jamie’s looks the same size as mine. The recorder did her job every bit as good as I did. I can’t blame her for that”.
“The win in Brazil has helped a little”, said a distraught Harrington. “But it would have been nice to win here too. I am not sitting here decrying the fact that I lost £166,000, I am more worried about the fact that I had the chance to win a big tournament and I haven’t done so. Obviously, it leads to a lot of complications in the future. Normally, if you have a lead, you are worried about how you play the next day, now I am always going to have this hanging over me”.