Kaymer leads in Abu Dhabi after TV viewer gets Harrington disqualified

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Martin Kaymer could rise as high as No. 2 in the world ranking with a victory in Abu Dhabi this week.
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PA Sport

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Martin Kaymer is on course to retain the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and take the world No. 2 spot away from Tiger Woods after a scintillating second-round 65 on Friday.

But that was not the story of the day on the European Tour. Padraig Harrington's disqualification when lying in second place was the big talking point -- and it might lead to a change in the rules of golf.

Even the referee who called the three-time major winner in to study a slow-motion video of him replacing his ball on the seventh green during his opening 65 said that the punishment – a two-stroke penalty added to his Thursday score, which meant he signed an incorrect scorecard and was therefore disqualified.

Meanwhile, Kaymer seized control of the event from South African Charl Schwartzel with five birdies in his first seven holes. Even as rain and wind arrived, the German kept a bogey off his card and his further birdies at the 12th and 14th took him to 12 under par at halfway.

Schwartzel, chasing a second successive win, is 9 under after a 71, with Northern Ireland's U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell four behind in third spot thanks to a 70.

World No. 1 Lee Westwood dropped three late shots and with a 75 survived the cut with nothing to spare at level par, while British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and Ian Poulter missed the cut by one, Darren Clarke by two and new European Ryder Cup Captain Jose Maria Olazabal by four.

Predecessor Colin Montgomerie is going well, though, at 5 under following a 69, and the 70 of Masters champion Phil Mickelson left him 3 under.

In the week that Scotland’s Elliot Saltman was given a three-month ban after being accused of repeatedly moving his ball forward after marking it, there was no suggestion of Harrington trying to gain an advantage. But the fact that his ball was deemed to have been accidentally nudged a tiny fraction of an inch was enough to put him out of the event.

"It seems harsh -- it feels harsh,” said Harrington, who would have received only the two-stroke penalty if the incident had come to light before he signed his scorecard, said. "But the rule is there for other and bigger reasons and we love the fact that we have the best game in the world when it comes to the rules.

"It's an absolute game of honor and even if a player is seen to breach rules and can't be caught out by the officials, he would be ostracized and have a very lonely life on the Tour,” he added. "It gives us the higher ground, let's say.

"It's a dimple and a half today, half an inch tomorrow, an inch next week and then five inches the following week. If it's moved, it's moved -- that's the fact of the matter and you can't argue over how much it's moved."

A television viewer raised the matter of Harrington's ball rocking forward and then rolling back as he brushed it with a finger while picking up his marker. Only when the coverage was slowed down, could European Tour Senior Referee Andy McFee be sure that the movement back was not as much.

And because Harrington had signed his card by then, disqualification was the only outcome as the rules stand.

Yet the European Tour wrote to the ruling Royal and Ancient Club three years ago on whether that was too severe a penalty in such circumstances, and discussions on whether it needs to be changed are still ongoing.

McFee is the man who gave Harrington the bad news Friday and also disqualified him when he was five ahead with a round to go at The Belfry in 2000. The Dubliner was discovered on that occasion to have failed to sign his scorecard on the opening day.

"It is very harsh -- the punishment does not really fit what the player has done," McFee said. "That's unfortunate.

"It's something the PGA Tour and ourselves have raised with the governing bodies (the rules in America and Mexico are governed by the U.S. Golf Association) and as yet we have not put forward an argument that has convinced them."

Grant Moir, Rules of Golf director for the R&A, added: "Obviously in the light of this and what happened to Camilo Villegas (the Colombian was another victim of 'trial by television' in Hawaii earlier this month) the significance of the disqualification penalty has been brought sharply back into focus. Certainly with the introduction of every-increasing scrutiny and enhanced images there is a fresh impetus to have a look at it and see if the rules are still appropriate.

"The fundamental principle is that it is the responsibility of a player to turn in an accurate score and eroding that principle would be a significant move,” he added. "But we have looked at the possibility of introducing a decision to deal with a situation where enhanced images show a breach of the rules that even the player could not know about."