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Time to disqualify game's TV vigilantes

IAN POULTER branded them "snitches". Graeme McDowell's choice was "anoraks".

Whatever you call them, golf's TV vigilantes can bring down the game's greatest players with their remote control. They certainly give new meaning to the term 'zapper.'

And they make golf appear even more outlandish to those who have no inkling of its honour code or the importance of its myriad of small and seemingly anachronistic rules.

Padraig Harrington yesterday morning became the second high-profile 'victim' of the TV Vigilantes in three weeks when he was disqualified from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

It's staggering that Harrington, described last night by tournament leader Martin Kaymer as "the fairest player in golf" and appointed 'Working for Golf Ambassador" by the R&A only last week, should unwittingly fall foul of the rules in this way.

Kaymer, who'd played with the Dubliner on Thursday, was "shocked" by the news, while a flabbergasted Paul McGinley said: "Padraig's so scrupulously honest, he almost goes out of his way to call penalties on himself.

"It's grossly ironic this should happen to him, especially given events earlier this week," McGinley added, clearly referring to Scot Lloyd Saltman's suspension for three months on Tuesday after his disqualification for repeatedly marking and replacing his ball incorrectly during last year's Russian Open.

A fortnight after Camilo Villegas was tossed out of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on armchair evidence, Harrington's misfortune adds considerable strength to the campaign to bring the sport's rule book into the 21st century.

Like Villegas, Harrington's 'transgression' on the seventh green on Thursday warranted only a two-stroke penalty ... he actually was disqualified for signing for a wrong score after failing to add those two strokes to his tally at the hole.

Yet the transgression only came to the attention of tournament officials and Harrington long after he'd signed his card. Effectively, he was thrown out of the tournament for failing to add a penalty he didn't even know he'd incurred until arriving at the course early yesterday for his second round.

This is just the latest example of a blatant and recurring injustice which has already been officially brought to the attention of the sport's rulers, the Royal and Ancient and United States Golf Association, by the world's top professional tours.

The ever-outspoken Poulter typically went right over the top in this Tweet issued yesterday: "Rules of Golf Book, Rule 22-4, Paragraph 3, Line 7, 'the rules of golf are complete b*****ks and are stuck back in 1932'."

As one might expect, European Senior Referee Andy McFee, who broke the news to Harrington, struck a distinctly more sober note. He revealed that representations have already been made by the European and PGA Tours to the two governing bodies to try and get them to waive disqualification of a player who signs for an incorrect score if he'd no way of knowing he'd incurred a penalty.

However, suggestions that a way might be found of applying that penalty retroactively have made little headway, since it would undermine that most sacred tenet in a sport in which the player is relied upon to regulate himself -- namely, he must take full responsibility for his score and the signature on that card is his bond.

Coincidentally, McFee also was the man in charge on the only other occasion that Harrington was disqualified, as he held a five-stroke lead on Sunday morning at the 2000 Benson and Hedges International.

On that occasion, Harrington failed to sign his card after the first round because Michael Campbell had scribbled his name into the relevant space in error.

So, it was quite amusing yesterday when the Irishman, once again accepting bitter misfortune in good grace, quipped: "You know, a lot worse things could happen. You could be five ahead going into the last round and have this happen.

"Anyway, as I reeled off to you yesterday, I've plenty of things to work on, so it'll be nice to have the next three days on the range," Harrington added. And the 39-year-old was true to his word, slamming ball after ball into the ether yesterday afternoon.

Typically, Harrington disagreed with Poulter's emotive description of golf's TV vigilantes as "snitches," saying: "I certainly wouldn't call them that. I'm comfortable with people out there watching.

"We had it in our clubs growing up. There was always someone there who knew the rules and wanted to apply them. They were the characters at times. They added to the place. Yeah, it takes a certain individual to act upon it, but we do need those individuals."

Though McFee agreed that the sofa-snoops perform a service for golf, there was a note of distaste in his voice as he declined to reveal the email addresses of the two sharp-eyed viewers who'd alerted the European Tour to Harrington's transgression at 6.0pm on Thursday.

"I don't see any purpose that would be served by giving them the oxygen of publicity," he said.

McDowell, who endured a 'stewards' enquiry' after his round on Thursday when a viewer erroneously 'reported' him for moving his ball at address on the 18th fairway, expressed his sympathy for Harrington.

"It's just horrible really," said the US Open champion. "I mean trial-by-TV and all this stuff. In most cases TV evidence is very helpful. The rules are there for everybody's protection and I'd want someone to call me on a rule if I broke a major one.


"But at some point common sense has to take over. We're talking about a dimple roll forward here," he added. "To me, the marking and remarking of the golf ball is one of the greyest areas in golf.

"The game is so scientific in many other ways, but when it comes to marking the ball, you've big coins and small coins and it's very difficult to get it on the right spot.

"Effectively, Padraig has been disqualified for brushing the ball with his finger as he took his marker away. I think it's a tough rule and a horrible way to be DQ'd in your first tournament of the year. I feel sorry for him. It's not nice at all."

As for the guys who reported Harrington, McDowell smiled: "Yeah, wonder what size of plasma TV they have -- if they're sitting at home with a 100 inch screen on high-def and playback.

"How would I describe someone like that?," he went on. "I don't know, an anorak. Definitely someone with too much time on his hands."

Abu Dhabi Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 1, 9.0am

Irish Independent