Olazabel cashes in on Harrington horror

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The Independent Online

Jose Maria Olazabal won the Benson and Hedges International Open tonight after the dramatic disqualification of runaway overnight leader Padraig Harrington.

The Irishman, five shots clear he thought as he arrived on The Belfry's practice range an hour before his tee-off time, saw his hopes of the title and £166,600 first prize dashed because of a scorecard error on Thursday.

Harrington had failed to sign his card, but it was spotted only when the hotel beside the Ryder Cup course asked for copies of his card with a view to framing them if he won.

The 28-year-old, a trained accountant and perhaps the least likely player in the whole of professional golf to commit such an error, knew the punishment as soon as he was told of the crime.

With a look of shock and disappointment on his face, he told his wife Caroline, then family and friends in a series of telephone calls, that he was out and would be leaving without a penny and, more important to him, without the trophy.

Five hours later it was Olazabal holding it aloft - for the second time.

With a sparkling second successive 66 highlighted by an eagle on the long 17th, the 1990 champion had his first victory since the US Masters 13 months ago and since he broke his hand banging a hotel wall in frustration at the US Open last June.

Olazabal held off the challenge of Welshman Phil Price to win by three with a 13 under par total of 275. Nobody else was in the hunt, Scot Andrew Coltart and Argentina's Jose Coceres sharing third place five strokes further back.

Harrington was an example to everyone in how he accepted the most devastating thing to happen to him in his entire career.

"I'm not screaming inside. As I was on the phone I felt like 'God, I'm ringing round as if there's been a death.'

"There hasn't been. I haven't won the tournament and the great thing about being a professional golfer is that there's always next week."

He was not going to blame anybody else. Not New Zealander Michael Campbell, who put his signature on Harrington's card and did not say anything when he realised it was not his card and handed it over. Not the tournament recorder who did not spot the mistake. And not those who did spot it and could have kept quiet until after the tournament, by which time he could not have been disqualified.

"If you are going to win, you want to win right," he added. "I'd hate to have won and for somebody to point it out afterwards.

"I'd hope I would hand the trophy back if I was in that situation.

"The money does matter very much, but the tournament is more important."

And so are the possible implications. He missed out on going to a highest-ever world ranking of around 25th and on going third in the European Order of Merit.

Instead he drops to eighth and if he is outside the top 12 come August he will not qualify for the £3million World Championship in Ohio.

Senior referee Andy McFee, the man who had to tell Harrington he was disqualified, described it as probably the second hardest thing he had had to do.

The hardest was to disqualify a player - Dutchman Constant Smits van Waesburghe - after he thought he had made it through the dreaded European tour school.

"He was playing for his career, whereas Padraig wasn't. But it was still not a pleasant thing to do.

"I knew the probable outcome as soon as I was told about the incident.

"We all know Padraig is an extremely level-headed and cool guy and he knew there was nowhere else to go other than disqualification.

"I suspect that he was desperately disappointed - I think we all are - but he knows what the rules are and it goes to the core of the game.

"Golf is not played under the constant gaze of a referee and we all know that it is relatively easy out there to do things that aren't correct.

"But the one thing that all players at whatever level have to do is put their mark on a card which they can hold up to the world and say everything on it is right.

"I wish to hell this had never come to light, but once it does come to light I can't ignore it."

Campbell talked afterwards of the "total confusion" between himself, Harrington and the third member of the first round group Jamie Spence in the recorder's area.

He met the Dubliner as he finished his own round and Harrington told him: "Don't worry about it - it's my fault."

Harrington was left hoping that Olazabal and/or Price, the only two players who appeared to have a chance of catching him, would do something sensational to make him think he might not have won anyway.