It's time to change video evidence procedures
Padraig Harrington's disqualification before his second round at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is the latest in a string of rules controversies to hit the game and begs the question of whether the way rules are administered needs to be changed.
The Irishman, who ended the first round just a shot off the lead after apparently firing a brilliant 65, should in fact have signed for a 67 to include a two-stroke penalty.
It was only when officials consulted the feedback section of the European Tour's website that the offence came to light. The three-time major winner knew he had touched the ball at the time but thought it had merely oscillated rather than moved position.
A television viewer had spotted that the rules may have been breached, prompting referee Andy McFee to view footage after play for the day had been completed. Harrington had long since recorded his 65 and so was liable for disqualification for signing for a lower score than he should have done.
That incident prompted calls for a rules official to be permanently stationed in front of live television coverage with the brief of highlighting potential problems before a player signs his card.
Harrington's disqualification adds more weight to that argument because it was merely the timing of the discovery of the offence rather than the breach of the rules itself that led to him suffering the ultimate penalty.
If a rules official had been watching at the time and felt further examination of the footage were required it could have taken place before Harrington signed his card. The same applies to the incident involving Villegas.
Had the watching expert rules official not seen anything untoward then there should not have been a case to answer regardless of what television viewers at home might think. After all, we often know that a ref has erred in other sports but we can do nothing about it - that's just the rub of the green.
Using the observations of television viewers sitting at home does not seem the right way to proceed in a professional sport.
On his final hole in the first round at Abu Dhabi, Graeme McDowell also endured a trial by video to see whether he had moved his ball as he addressed his third shot. The examination took place before he signed his card.
It showed that no offence had been committed and so there wasn't a penalty. But what if he had moved the ball? He would have been penalised and his score would have been altered accordingly, but he would have still been allowed to continue in the tournament.
It hardly seems fair that Harrington wasn't afforded the same opportunity merely because of the timing of the discovery of his offence.
The use of video in judging potential breaches of the rules does leave the game riddled with inconsistency. What if Harrington replacing his ball hadn't been shown on television?
He would still be in the tournament because his playing partner marking his card saw nothing untoward. Ninety per cent of the action in a tournament such as this continues away from the gaze of the cameras.
How many other players touched the sand with their club, in breach of the local rule that classified sandy wastes as official bunker hazards, during last year's PGA Championship?
We will never know, but of course we do know that Dustin Johnson did do exactly that on the 72nd hole and the subsequent penalty cost him a place in the play-off ultimately won by Martin Kaymer.
On balance, despite this inconsistency, I do think it is correct to refer to video when it might reveal a breach of the rules, but the scrutiny should be contemporaneous.
Now the authorities in the professional game should take action that makes it much more difficult for incidents like the one we have just witnessed in Abu Dhabi happening again. They should employ extra referees to monitor live video feeds.
Golf's rules are complex. They have to be so to ensure fair play and a level playing field for all competitors. But they subject the game to ridicule when punishments that barely fit a crime have to be handed out and Harrington's disqualification perfectly highlights this unnecessary malaise.