ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington was disqualified before the second round of the Abu Dhabi Championship after the Irishman was judged to have illegally moved his ball during Thursday's first round.
European Tour senior referee Andy McFee said Friday that a viewer e-mailed to say Harrington replaced his ball on the green and, as he took the coin away, his hand moved the ball. Since the ball was not replaced, Harrington incurred a two-stroke penalty not reflected on his scorecard.
"The problem is that Padraig's card for the seventh shows a three, and the fact that Padraig was totally unaware that this ball has moved doesn't unfortunately help him," McFee said. "The disqualification is for signing for the wrong score, lower than actually taken."
He finished with a 7-under 65 and was one shot behind leader Charl Schwartzel.
"You know what? A lot worse things could happen. You could be five ahead going into the last round," Harrington said jokingly. "It's an awkward situation. Every time something like this happens, you want to try and gain something from it, learn something from it."
In May 2000 at the Benson and Hedges International, Harrington led by five shots after three rounds but had failed to sign his first-round card and was disqualified on Sunday morning.
Harrington acknowledged that he touched the ball but felt it hadn't moved.
"I'm well aware of the ruling on that situation, and it's happened many times over the years," he said. "You know, I'm quite comfortable, if you touch a ball and it doesn't move and you feel it hasn't moved, it hasn't moved, and you don't need to -- there is no replacing.
"If you called the referee at that moment in time," he added, "in all good conscience, I couldn't have put the ball anywhere else but where it was."
Harrington's disqualification is only the most recent to be initiated by a viewer.
Earlier this month, Camilo Villegas was disqualified for a rules violation that a television viewer called in after the opening round of a PGA Tour event in Hawaii.
Villegas was chipping up the slope to the 15th green when the ball twice rolled back toward him. The second time, Villegas walked over and casually swatted away some loose pieces of grass in front of the divot as the ball was still moving down the slope.
That is a violation of Rule 23-1 that says, "When a ball is in motion, a loose impediment that might influence the movement of the ball must not be removed." The penalty is two shots. Villegas opened with a 72, and he also was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.
"The rules are good, we abide very well, the players love the fact that we apply them," Harrington said. "We love the standard that we play by. When we have to stick to that, that's the best thing about our game."
Harrington did acknowledge that the European Tour might consider modifying the penalty so a player was not disqualified after he "has signed his card and something has come forward that the player could not have been aware about."
"I'm comfortable with the whole idea that there's people there watching, and I believe when I'm on the golf course I'm not going to do anything untoward," Harrington said. "I hope that this many people watch The European Tour. I hope there's 100 million people watching me play and checking me out. It's good for the game."