Referee ruined duel, says Tiger

World No 1 believes official who put Harrington on clock cost Irishman Firestone title
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The Independent Online

Of all the supposed truths in golf, at least two are withering in the spotlight this morning. The first is that players never criticise the referee directly; the second is that Tiger Woods never feels sympathy for his beaten rivals. The world No 1 was managing to bash down both of those myths yesterday.

Woods was making his way to Hazeltine for the year's final major – the USPGA Championship, which begins here on Thursday – plainly furious with John Paramor. The European Tour's chief referee is a much respected – much loved even – figure on the fairways he patrols.

Woods, himself, counts the burly Englishman as a friend, with whom he has shared the occasional drink. Their next round together might be interesting.

Woods believes Padraig Harrington lost their epic battle in Akron on Sunday night because of Paramor's stopwatch. When holding a one-shot lead over Woods, the resurgent Irishman dumped his fourth shot into the greenside pond on the 16th and ran up a triple-bogey eight effectively to hand the $1.4m (£839,000) first prize to his playing partner. Woods, meanwhile, had struck his eight-iron approach to a foot. The pair had just been informed by Paramor they were being put on the clock. Yet far from looking on at his opponent's calamity and his own brilliance with glee, Woods was angry.

"Like I was telling him [Harrington] out there, 'I'm sorry that John got in the way of a great battle,' because it was such a great battle for 16 holes," Woods said, after winning his seventh Firestone title. "I think being on the clock influenced Paddy. I'm sure he would have taken a lot more time on his third shot to try to figure out how to play it, where to place the next one. And I don't think that Paddy would have hit the pitch shot that way if he was able to take his time, look at it, analyse it. But he had to get up there quickly and hit it ... and hit it in the water."

Harrington while not blaming the slow-play policy, conceded that he was rushed during a series of shots in the rough. "It's an awkward situation," said the 37-year-old who was trying to win his first title in a year. "There are rules and the players make the rules and we've got to apply them." Tour rules state that when players take more than the allotted time while on the clock – 40 seconds, with an additional 20 seconds for the first player to hit toward each green – they are given a warning. A second bad time leads to a $5,000 fine and a one-shot penalty.

However, the latter is hardly ever enforced. And as Harrington said, there were mitigating factors in Ohio on Sunday. One in particular. The galleries following the final grouping were inevitably huge and several times Harrington had to back off when about to play a shot as fans scrambled up the hole after Woods had played. Nevertheless, Harrington recognised that "rules are rules".

Despite Harrington's typically gracious response in defeat, his conqueror was adamant the loser had been wronged. Said Woods: "I don't understand why we were put on the clock considering that he ended up taking a penalty drop from all the way on the other side of the lake... We hit our tee shots on 17 and the guys were just walking off the tee on 18. So I don't know." When asked whether he believed it was his peerless shot into the par-five green which had won him his second event in as many weeks, or Harrington being distracted, Woods replied: "Both. I hit a good shot that put a little heat on him. But also, I think the worst he would have made would have been bogey."

Paramor, however, was not about to apologise. In a statement he later revealed the final pairing was 13 minutes over their time limit after 11 holes and could have been put on the clock then, except that a player up ahead on the 16th was being delayed while seeking a ruling.

It was a shame, as this controversy overshadowed what had been an enthralling final round. Ever since he won the last two majors last year, the world of golf has waited for the Harrington showdown with Woods, who missed the 2008 Open and USPGA because of knee surgery. But Harrington's radical swing changes saw him all but fall off the radar. Harrington at last seems to have turned the corner. Hazeltine will be delighted.

Harrington and Woods have been drawn together this week. It is fair to say the Dubliner is relishing the rematch. "As I said, to Tiger afterwards, 'We'll do battle many times again'," Harrington said. The horror show on the 16th would not be affecting him. "I think it's pretty much out of my system now," he said.