The Victorian Open was turned upside down on Thursday with first-round leader Nick Gillespie sensationally disqualified for failing to sign his scorecard.
The New Zealander was elated after finishing his opening round in 65 at 13th Beach on the Bellarine Peninsula to equal the course record at seven under par.
But his joy turned to despair when approached soon after by tournament officials who informed the 24-year-old from Wellington that he'd breached a key rule that lies at the heart of golf's honour system.
Gillespie, a former winner of both the Fiji and Vanuatu Opens and in his third year as a professional, was totally unaware he'd made such a rookie but costly mistake.
A visibly upset Gillespie made a hasty exit from the impromptu meeting and refused to talk about the incident. However he later calmed down and made light of such a gut-wrenching situation.
"I have been practicing my signature this afternoon in preparation for next week," said Gillespie, who will get the chance to redeem himself next week at the NZ PGA Championship.
Andrew Langford-Jones, the director of tournaments for the PGA Tour of Australasia, had no option under the rules of golf but take the course of action he did.
"It's an unfortunate situation that no-one likes to see but at the end of the day all the players know it is their responsibility to sign the card," Langford-Jones said.
"And it's a lesson he'll learn and never repeat, I hope."
Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington was the last notable golfer disqualified for failing to sign his scorecard in 2011.
With Gillespie out of the way, Victorian power-house Steve Jones and the well-performed Andre Stolz assumed the tournament lead on five under par 67.
Another Kiwi visitor Josh Geary and Ben Ford shot opening rounds of 68 to be equal third.
Richard Green, a former Australian Masters champion, is also well in contention for the title after carding a three under par 69 around the Beach Course where several holes parallel the rugged Bass Strait coastline.
In the women's section of the tournament, Sarah Jane Smith shot a brilliant nine under par 64 on the less demanding and more inland Creek Course to be one in front of Kristie Smith (WA).
A further shot back on 66 is the veteran Englishwoman Laura Davies, while South African Lee Anne Pace is alone in fourth spot on 67.
Smith, a stylish Queenslander who enjoyed a high finish in last week's Australian Open at Royal Canberra, put on a commanding performance, registering seven birdies and an eagle in benign early conditions.
"Felt very nice out there," she said. "Absolutely perfect conditions for golf."
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