Snow calls halt to play on first day in the desert
Graeme McDowell hits to the first green as snow falls in the desert during the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona yesterday
Memories of hail-lashed days in the West of Ireland championship came flooding back for Ireland’s quartet of stars as snowfall forced the first round of the WGC-Accenture Matchplay in Arizona to be suspended.
Just 22 of the 32 matches got under way and none were finished when play was suspended at 11.07am local time as snow began to fall.
“The weather is officially ridiculous!” McIlroy tweeted from the safety of the clubhouse, where he remained alongside his first round rival Shane Lowry.
“I think we might need a few of those yellow Srixon balls,” Lowry said, clearly disappointed that he will have to wait until today for his Accenture Matchplay debut.
The snow turned Dove Mountain into a Christmas card scene within minutes with caddies staging snowball fights outside the clubhouse as the players huddled inside around roaring fires.
Carl Pettersson, one of the more rotund players on tour, joked: “This is one of the few times it is an advantage to be fat.”
Two inches of snow
Officials waited until 1pm in the hope that the sun might emerge and prompt a quick thaw but with the course under two inches of snow, they decided instead to call off play for the day.
“I don’t think we will have any problem at all, if the weather remains nice, finishing Sunday on time,” said tournament director Mark Russell. “We have a lot more leeway in this situation (64 players) than we would have in a 144-man or 156-man strokeplay competition.”
Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell were the only Irish players to make it out onto the course for their first round clash. “You guys must be crazy,” McDowell told fans shivering in the stand at the first tee. “Don’t you know this is on TV?”
The Irish duo started their game with sleet blasting them in the face, powering drives just 260 yards down the middle on a hole where Ian Poulter had hit one 324 yards through the fairway just three hours earlier.
Both came up short of the green in two but with McDowell pitching 25 feet beyond the flag, Harrington looked like the favourite to go one up after chipping to just four feet before the hooters sounded.
“I remember many, many a day at Rosses Point like this,” Harrington said back the clubhouse. “Worse to be honest. Hailstones is worse. This is only snow. It was called today exactly when it should have been called. They waited as long as they could and called it as soon as they should have. There was no issue.
“Back in the amateur days it just took longer for the information to travel back from the ninth to the clubhouse. It’s not like they had the weather forecasts they have now.
“No doubt we played some amateur tournaments from the back of the back tees on windy days which we wouldn’t do now as pros. I remember playing the sixth in Portmarnock 600 yards into the wind off the back stakes.
“I’ve only played one hole but we were at the front of the back tee and I’d imagine there are forward tees further out the course.
“In the ‘West’ the worst thing was the hailstones and like here, you could see it coming. They were always tough days in the West. My neck is a bit stiff and I am going to have some treatment. To be honest, my neck has been great for years. It’s not an issue.”
As Harrington headed off Lowry and McIlroy were side by side recalling their amateur days.
“It’s awful, isn’t it,” said Lowry, who was visibly disappointed not to get going. “I was really looking forward to getting out there but this is the worst I’ve ever seen at a golf tournament.
“It’s been bad a couple of times in the West, but that was mainly the wind. I remember one year it was about minus five at Rosses Point with the wind chill factor but I never saw snow!”
McIlroy recalled shooting 86 in the 2003 Connacht Youth at Connemara, where he took a 10 on the last as hailstones lashed his face. “It was nothing as bad as this. But I do remember standing on the 18th tee box there and I swear I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. It was just horrendous. But there’s nothing you can do with this stuff.
Learned to ski
“I’ve been near the snow a few times though recently. I was in Aspen and the French Alps so I’m glad I learned to ski, I might have to do it this week.”
Of the 21 matches that got unde way, most went to form with the big surprise coming from Jason Day, who was six up on Zach Johnson through 10 holes.
Matchplay specialist Poulter was three up on Stephen Gallacher through 12 holes but it was more of a struggle for the in-form South African Charl Schwartzel, who came back from two down at the turn to square the match by the 11th.
Sergio Garcia was two up with three to play against Thongchai Jaidee in the opening match while Justin Rose was two up on KJ Choi through nine holes with Lee Westwood also two up on Rafael Cabrera-Bello through five.
Play suspended due to snow (US unless stated)
Sergio Garcia (Spa) 2 up on Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) ( 15 holes)
Matt Kuchar 3 up on Hiroyuki Fujita (Jpn) (14)
Ian Poulter (Eng) 3 up on Stephen Gallacher (Sco) (12)
Bo Van Pelt 5 up on John Senden (Aus) (12)
Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) level with Russell Henley (11)
Zach Johnson 6 down to Jason Day (Aus) (10)
Jason Dufner 3 down to Richard Sterne (Rsa) (10)
Hunter Mahan 4 up on Matteo Manassero (Ita) (9)
Justin Rose (Eng) 2 up on K J Choi (Kor) (9)
Bill Haas 3 down to Nicolas Colsaerts (Bel) (8)
Adam Scott (Aus) 1 up on Tim Clark (Rsa) (8)
Jamie Donaldson (Wal) 3 down to Thorbjorn Olesen (Den) (7)
Bubba Watson level with Chris Wood (Eng) (6)
Jim Furyk level with Ryan Moore (6)
Lee Westwood (Eng) 2 up on Rafael Cabrera Bello (Spa) (5)
Martin Kaymer (Ger) 1 down to George Coetzee (Rsa) (4)
Keegan Bradley level with Marcus Fraser (Aus) (3)
Ernie Els (Rsa) 1 up on Fredrik Jacobson (Swe) (3)
Steve Stricker 2 up on Henrik Stenson (Swe) (2)
Nick Watney level with David Toms (1)
Dustin Johnson level with Alexander Noren (Swe) (1)