On The Clock: The Stopwatch That Ruined a Tournament

Josh McMullenCorrespondent IAugust 11, 2009

AKRON, OH - AUGUST 09:  Tiger Woods of USA and Padraig Harrington (R) of Ireland size up their putts on the first hole during the final round of the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational on August 9, 2009 at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.  (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

The final round of Sunday’s Bridgestone Invitational was supposed to be one of the most intriguing battles of the PGA season, with Tiger Woods facing off against Padraig Harrington in an 18-hole battle.

However, because of a stopwatch, that battle was decided pretty quickly.

Because of the PGA’s quick-play policy, European Tour chief referee John Paramor decided to put them “on the clock” (instituting a time limit for each shot) when Woods and Harrington, the final pairing of the tournament, fell a full hole behind the pairing before them. The time limit was put on them on the 16th hole, when they fell 17 minutes behind the next pairing.

According to Woods, Harrington was then forced to rush shots, which forced him to make bad decisions and bad shots. The crowning insult was a crucial shot that rolled right into the water, which all but sealed the tournament for Woods.

Woods then told Harrington after it was all over: “I’m sorry John [Paramor] got in the way.” That led to an undisclosed fine (because the Tour does not publicize fines) for criticizing a rules official.

Slugger White, the rules official in charge at the tournament, had this to say about the whole incident...

“I don’t think John did get in the middle of it. John is doing his job. We would be criticized if that group was two holes behind and finishing at 10 after 6 (p.m.). It’s just a regulation, guys [referring to Woods and Harrington]. That’s what it amounts to. We’re doing our jobs.”

Honestly, I think the whole thing was completely unfair. I’m not advocating that superstars like Woods and Harrington should receive special treatment, but putting the final pairing on the clock was completely wrong and ruined what might have been a great final round.

First of all, it’s the final pairing.

That means there were no players behind them that would have been waiting while they played through. So what if the trophy ceremony is delayed a few minutes while the last players play? I’d rather see an exciting fight to the finish for the trophy instead of the ceremony itself; heck, once the ceremony begins, I change the channel.

Second, I think Tiger Woods was right to say that Paramor ruined it for Harrington. From my personal experience, if I’m told I have a very small amount of time to do things that require a lot of thought, I tend to rush; most of the time, it turns out miserable. That is exactly what happened to Padraig Harrington.

Paramor told them they were on the clock, and Harrington had to rush, which forced him to take bad shots that ultimately lost him the tournament.

That was one of the worst things Paramor could have done. Both golfers were focused on the task at hand, which was trying to win the tournament. I may be a pretty miserable golfer, but even I know shots require a lot of thought, something Harrington couldn’t do when Paramor started that stopwatch. That was the beginning of the end for Harrington, as the bad shots came quickly and often.
Who knows what could have happened had Paramor not told them they were on the clock? Would Harrington have been able to beat Tiger? Would we have seen an even more exciting playoff the next day?
Unfortunately, because of John Paramor’s stopwatch, we will never know.