It was a case of so far, so good as the European Tour begins to clamp down on slow play

We might only be one tournament in to the brave new world of the European Tour’s fight to improve pace of play but the early signs are very promising.

The Tour’s four-point plan came into play in Abu Dhabi with, in among it all, there being a one-shot penalty for two ‘bad times’ in the same tournament rather than just one round.

The tournament was helped by a smaller-than-usual 132-man field teeing it up in 11-minute intervals, something that will also happen this week in Dubai, but, credit where it’s due, the players were round quicker than a year ago with the threeballs averaging just over four hours and 30 minutes.

“So far, so good,” the tour’s senior referee Andy McFee told The Scotsman. “The first round was actually 10 minutes quicker this year than it was last year and the second round was about six minutes quicker, so both rounds were quicker.

“The flow around the course was brilliant. There are always things that go into a slow round of golf. It is not just about players playing slowly.”

There was even some all-round praise for Bryson DeChambeau who missed the cut but did it in a decent time.

“He was definitely faster. Credit to The European Tour, it definitely has been faster. The group in front, they were really slow, but on Thursday we were around in four and a half hours. I can’t remember when I felt it was that quick,” explained one of his playing partners Matt Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick’s caddie Billy Foster added that he was impressed by the American’s efforts.

In the new spirit of openness McFee also revealed that three players had been given a bad time – Viktor Hovland for taking 59 seconds to hit a putt, Ahmed Skaik took 109 seconds over a shot, and Erik Van Rooyen got a bad time when out of position on Sunday.

“There was not one breach of in-position timing,” continued McFee. “We had one or two usual suspects who got close but didn’t go over, which was good. And we have a much better chance now of getting people on that because we have reduced the limit from 100 to 85 and 80 to 70 seconds.

“It was hard to get anyone going over 100 seconds. Eighty-five seconds is still too bloody long but at least we’ve got more of a chance.

“A couple of players who were playing with someone they know is slow said there was a big difference. They were more ready to play than they had ever been.”

The test now is to keep it going, in fields of 156 players and where the spotlight might not be shining quite so brightly, but Thomas Bjorn is hopeful that this is the start of genuine steps forward.

“It’s been amazing, but these are the things we need. It seems like the players have said to themselves, ‘Well, this is it.’ Our referees have been proactive. They have spoken to the players about it and it seems everything is running nicely on the course. This is the way forward. It’s been brilliant.

“I hope it doesn’t go like it goes in other sports when you have rules changes and it seems like the first three or four weeks everybody is up for it but then you kind of forget about it. I hope it is pushed forward and we send a good signal to the world that we are taking this seriously, that we want to finish rounds on time and we want to be in control of everything we do.”

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