European Tour officials came under fire from some of the circuit’s leading lights after controversially suspending play in the second round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic due to high winds at Emirates Golf Club.
Two-time major winner Martin Kaymer led the protests over play initially being halted at 2.25pm local time then called off for the day around an hour later, claiming the players in his side of the draw, including Scott Jamieson, Stephen Gallacher and Paul Lawrie, had been dealt a raw deal.
They’d already played their opening round on Thursday afternoon in a strengthening wind in the UAE, before being sent out in a shamal, fierce northwesterly winds, for their second circuit in the £2.2 million event on Friday morning.
In gusts of up to 31mph, as reported by the Tour’s official weatherman, only four players in that early wave broke 70, including Kaymer, who took to Twitter along with his caddie, Scot Craig Connelly, to vent his frustration over the subsequent decision to halt play at a time when just a handful of the afternoon groups had reached the turn.
By then, at least one tree had been blown over as sandstorms swept across the Majlis Course, but, according to Dane Lucas Bjerregaard, an eight-foot tall board had suffered the same fate in the morning. “You didn’t call it off then,” he pointed out in a tweet directed at the European Tour.
Making the same point, former world No 1 Kaymer, who’d carded a splendid 69 along with Rafa Cabrera Bello while recent SA Open winner Graeme Storm and Scott Hend had gone one better, wrote on the social media site: “Hard to understand the difference between the morning play and now, therefore even more surprised about the decision.”
Former Masters champion Trevor Immelman described the decision as “ridiculous” due to “half the field playing 36 holes in these conditions”, with Connelly, one of the most experienced caddies in the game, agreeing with a claim by Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal that play probably shouldn’t have started in the first place. “They knew the wind was to increase as the day went on,” said Connelly.
Despite the criticism, tournament director Mike Stewart was adamant the correct decision had been made, saying that spectator safety had been taken into account. “In the early afternoon, we had gusts approaching 36 and beyond,” he said. “The result was that in the last hour of play, we had roofs blown off TV towers. We had balls moving on the greens and one blowing into a bunker. Five trees came down. It was very unsafe and it was unplayable. We brought the players off the golf course in the interests of play and safety to the spectators as well. All going well, we still have a good chance of finishing on time on Sunday afternoon.”
Gallacher highlighted how tricky the conditions had been for the morning starters after he’d battled his way to a one-under 71. “That is one of the hardest rounds I’ve ever played,” said the two-time winner of this event. “You could be made to look like a 10 handicapper out there due to the gusts. You could be standing over the ball and see it get caught by a gust after hitting it and see it come up 40 yards short.
“An example of how tricky it was is that in one three-ball you could have one player hitting a 5-iron and another hitting an 8-iron. I had one six-foot putt that I left a foot short - I’ve never had that in my life. It was tricky right from the start, so anything par or better was a good score.
“It’s the mental challenge that is the toughest part in conditions like that. In fact, my caddie, Ryan McGuigan, said to me: ‘If every day was like that, you’d be working in Tesco rather than being a professional golfer!’”
Gallacher’s gutsy effort moved him to one-under alongside Lawrie (73), the pair sitting a shot behind Jamieson after he matched the Aberdonian’s second-day score. “It was a bit borderline at times as the balls weren’t far off moving on one or two greens,” said Jamieson, who holed a bunker shot at the 11th for one of his four birdies. “I didn’t putt great today, but it’s not easy in these conditions and I maybe didn’t strike the ball as well today.”
Lawrie parred the first 13 holes before his one bogey at the 14th, where a drive he thought was good ended up behind a tree. “One over par in these conditions is a decent effort,” he said. “The wind was all over the place, and you can’t stand still to putt on the greens. They didn’t cut the greens, so that prevented the ball from moving on them, but it’s difficult to get your head round that when you’re used to fast greens here. They are quite slow, and that’s tough because you’re thinking the putts are going to go.”
The three other Scots in the field - David Drysdale, Marc Warren and Richie Ramsay - are among those returning to the course at 7.30am on Saturday morning to resume their rounds. “When it’s sunny and calm,” wrote Lawrie on Twitter as he pointed out the distinct advantage that has been handed to half the field.
Having covered his opening eight holes in three-under to move to nine-under, South African George Coetzee is one ahead of the overnight leader, Sergio Garcia, with another Spaniard, Nacho Elvira, two shots further back in third place.