IT STARTED out like a day at the Dunhill Links Championship, with woolly hats and mitts required to combat the cold, yet quickly became more like a scene from an Alliance event deep into a Scottish winter.
Less than four hours into the first-round action in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain, play was halted by driving snow in the Arizona desert and, after a delay of around three hours, it was abandoned for the day.
“Wow, it was freezing out there,” tweeted Ian Poulter on returning to the warmth of the clubhouse with a three-hole lead over Scottish debutant Stephen Gallacher with six holes to play. As the conditions deteriorated, the Englishman added: “The caddies have just had a snowball fight – never seen anything like it.”
Aberdonian Paul Lawrie has seen plenty of snow but even he seemed surprised. “It’s snowing. Ye ha,” wrote Lawrie on his Twitter account. Up against American Scott Piercy, he was among those still to head out when officials brought play to a halt as ice began to form on the greens. A thick blanket of snow quickly covered the entire course, driving range and practice putting green as most of the players and caddies huddled in the clubhouse.
“Once we got two inches of snow, even if it melted in the next hour or so, it would still take another hour-and-a-half... to let the golf course drain where we could play,” Mark Russell, the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules and competition, said.
“We were just spinning our wheels, so we just decided to pull the plug on it. But I don’t think we’ll have any problem at all if the weather remains nice, finishing Sunday on time.”
It was the second time in three years that snow had forced a delay in play at Dove Mountain. Almost an inch of snow covered the course before thawing out for the start of the 2011 final between Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer, which was later interrupted by sleet. Kaymer wore a snood then and the German had it back on yesterday.
It was freezing cold as Gallacher, who had qualified for the opening world championship of the 2103 season on the back of his win in the Dubai Desert Classic just over a fortnight ago, set out at 7.45am local time against match-play specialist Poulter.
After a steady start – the opening three holes were halved – Gallacher fell behind to a Poulter birdie at the fourth but hit back straight away as a par proved good enough at the next. The Englishman quickly edged in front again, though, with a par at the short sixth and was then conceded both the eighth and tenth. Ryder Cup talisman Poulter was close to going out of bounds on the long 11th but scrambled a half in par-5s when Gallacher, who was unlucky to see his approach run just over the back of the green, failed to get up and down.
Closest to making progress before the suspension was Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who was two up against Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee on the 16th green. Never behind, Garcia found trouble with his tee shot at the 15th but still managed to win that with a par-4 to go two up for the first time.
In other early matches, Australian Jason Day was in full command against American Zach Johnson, four birdies in the first eight holes helping him go six up after ten. American Bo Van Pelt was five up on Australian John Senden after 12 holes, while defending champion Hunter Mahan was four up on Italian teenager Matteo Manassero after nine and American Matt Kuchar was three up on Japan’s Hiroyuki Fujita after 14.
World No 6 Justin Rose was two holes in front of South Korean KJ Choi at the turn, although that was not as good a position as it might have been for the fifth seed. Rose won four of the first five holes, but his opponent birdied the short sixth and 476-yard ninth.
Along with Lawrie and Richie Ramsay, world No 1 Rory McIlroy and second-ranked Tiger Woods were were among those players yet to start their first-round matches when the event was suspended.
McIlroy, beaten 2 and 1 by Mahan in last year’s final but making his first appearance since missing the cut last month in Abu Dhabi, where he was using his new Nike clubs for the first time, was up against former Irish amateur team-mate Shane Lowry while three-times champion Woods was due to take on fellow American Charles Howell III.
The snow should have cleared by the morning but there is the possibility of frost that could further delay things. The tournament does have the ability to make up a lot of lost time, however, with the likeliest scenario now being that the third round and quarter-finals will both be staged on Saturday.