Poor Padraig Harrington. The 28-year-old Irishman could - and, with a five-stroke lead, perhaps should - have secured his third European Tour victory at the Benson and Hedges International yesterday. Yet he never got the chance after being dramatically disqualified before the final round for failing to sign his scorecard on Thursday.
Harrington was devastated but did not blame anyone but himself. "At least it made it into a better tournament," he said. Instead of starting five behind, Jose Maria Olazabal and Phil Price began as joint leaders with the Spaniard scoring a second successive 66 to win by three strokes. An eagle at the 17th, holing from 12ft after a fine approach, sealed the victory.
Olazabal, once again driving the ball solidly, won for the first time since his Masters victory last year. "I couldn't believe it when I heard about Padraig and it completely changed my approach to the day," said Ollie, who also won the B&H in 1990. "It became matchplay with Phil over the back nine and I really played well. I have struggled for a couple of years but I drove the ball well all four days."
Olazabal received a cheque for £166,600, Harrington nothing. After a string of second places prior to winning in Brazil in April, Harrington was after another victory which would have taken him into the top 30 in the world rankings. "I didn't even know how much the first place was," he said. "The money does matter very much but the tournament is more important. I'm more worried about the fact that I had a chance to win a good tournament and haven't done it. By playing well, I even lost world ranking points. It's a shock and, obviously, I am very disappointed."
It was while he was phoning his family a perspective presented itself. "I was ringing round as if there'd been a death and obviously there hadn't. I haven't won the tournament and it's the same as if I didn't play well. The great thing about being a professional golfer is there is always next week, always another tournament."
Harrington said he would have felt awkward had the error come to light after the official results were published last night, when a statue of limitations is invoked. As it was the problem was only spotted by chance yesterday morning when officials from The Belfry requested the scorecards of the potential winners, and particularly Harrington's third-round 64, the new record for the redesigned course, intending to display them in the hotel.
In sifting through the cards, Tour staff noticed that although there were two signatures on the card for Harrington's first-round 71, neither of them was the Irishman's. Harrington arrived on the practice range an hour before his tee time and had hit two balls before being taken aside by Andy McFee, the Senior Referee, and David Probyn, the Tournament Director.
"They asked me if my signature was on the card," Harrington said. "Perhaps they were hoping I would say it was." Rule 6-6b states that the player is responsible for checking the score for each hole and that it is signed by the marker and himself. The penalty is disqualification.
"Padraig knew immediately," McFee said. "There are certain rules where I have to make an interpretation, but this is isn't one of them. I wish to hell it had not come to light, but when it had I couldn't ignore it."
Harrington played the first two rounds with Jamie Spence, who marked the Irishman's card, and Michael Campbell. When Spence passed a card to Campbell, he immediately signed it, then checking the figures realised it was not his and passed it to Harrington. The Irishman, who passed all his accountancy exams before turning pro, checked his figures as meticulously as ever and then handed the card in to the tournament recorder.
"I am always the last person to leave the scoring hut," Harrington said. "I thought I was meticulous when it comes to checking my card. I go over it three, four, five, six times. It is the first time I have ever been disqualified."
Campbell, whose signature ended up on all three cards, was on the 12th hole yesterday when he heard Harrington had been disqualified for a problem with his first-round score. "I am very disappointed for Padraig because he played great golf for three rounds," said the Kiwi. "It was just human error." When Campbell completed his round, Harrington told him: "Don't worry about it. It was my fault."
It is more common than might be expected for players to fail to sign their cards. Two players were disqualified from the South African Open earlier this year but the most famous case of an incorrect scorecard was when Tommy Armour wrongly marked Roberto de Vicenzo's card at the 1968 US Masters. Instead of being in a play-off, de Vicenzo lost to Bob Goalby and said: "What a stupid I am."
BENSON AND HEDGES INTERNATIONAL OPEN (The Belfry). Final round (GB & Irl unless stated): 275 JM Olazabal (Sp) 75 68 66 66; 278 P Price 69 72 68 69; 283 A Coltart 75 71 71 66, J Coceres (Arg) 74 74 68 67; 287 C Montgomerie 76 69 73 69, A Wall 75 69 73 70, S Gallacher 76 71 69 71; *A Scott (Aus) 71 75 67 74. Selected: 288 J Van de Velde (Fr) 70 75 70 74; 290 B Langer (Ger) 76 70 73 71, P McGinley 73 71 72 74; 291 D Clarke 78 72 72 69; 298 L Westwood 77 74 76 71; 304 S Torrance 77 72 79 76. Disqualified: P Harrington. *denotes amateurReuse content