Golf

Snow halts Match Play first round

Match Play Championship
Spectators make their way off the Dove Mountain course during a snowstorm.
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MARANA, Ariz. (AP)

Bundled in a winter jacket in a chilly tent near the snow-covered driving range, Mark Russell was asked where the opening day of the Match Play Championship ranked among his bizarre weather experiences.

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''It's right there,'' said Russell, the PGA Tour's vice president of competition.

And Russell has been on the job for more than 30 years.

First-round play in the World Golf Championships event was suspended Wednesday when rain that came down sideways quickly gave way to snow from a winter storm that dumped close to 2 inches on Dove Mountain in about an hour. The temperature plunged to 33 degrees at the cactus-lined layout 2,800 feet above sea level.

''I've seen snow on the course when I was a kid, but nothing like that on any of the tours. It was crazy,'' said top-ranked Rory McIlroy, one of 20 players in the 64-man field who never even made it to the first tee at the Ritz-Carlton Club.

Tiger Woods also was in one of the 10 matches that didn't start. He will open against Charles Howell III, while McIlroy will face Shane Lowry.

After more snow during the night and morning temperatures around freezing, the course remained coated Thursday morning, further delaying play. The latest target is a roughly 3 p.m. ET restart. The field is cut in half after each round and, with sunshine in the forecast the rest of the week, so it shouldn't be difficult to get caught up.

''We've got a lot of possibilities with this small field,'' Russell said.

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Sergio Garcia, in the leadoff match, had just holed a 10-foot par putt to win the 15th hole and go 2 up over Thongchai Jaidee when play was suspended.

Ian Poulter's only other tournament this year was on Maui for the Tournament of Champions, where it took four days just to get started because of high wind.

''I can't believe it. When have we ever seen that?'' he said, taking off his rain gear in front of his locker. ''The two events I've attempted to play this year have been three days of 50 mph wind and 2 inches of snow in an hour. It's absolutely, flippin' unbelievable.''

What does that say for the rest of the year?

''Can't get worse,'' he said. ''Just incredible. Bizarre. Have you ever seen it? Especially where we are.''

Maybe he should consider himself lucky. At least he didn't play Torrey Pines, where fog wiped out an entire round Saturday and Woods had to wait until Monday to polish off his 75th career victory. There were frost delays in the opening rounds at Phoenix.

But snow?

''I remember one year in Vegas in a collegiate tournament it was sleeting,'' said Webb Simpson, who played one shot. ''We all charged toboggans to our coach in the pro shop and he wasn't too happy about it. This is crazy weather. But we've got a great forecast for the weekend, so, hopefully, it will melt tonight.''

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Poulter was cold from the start, rubbing his hands together and jumping in place to keep warm in the morning chill.

The Englishman had a 3-up lead over Stephen Gallacher through 12 holes, then left the course plotting revenge after European Ryder Cup teammate Peter Hanson hit him with a snowball.

''I'm like an elephant,'' Poulter said. ''I will not forget.''

In only 3-1/2 hours of golf, there was some impressive play.

Bo Van Pelt, who took three shots to get out of a bunker early against John Senden, won six straight holes — only two of them with birdies — to build a 5-up lead through 12. Jason Day was 6 up through 10 holes against Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar was 3 up over Hiroyuki Fujita through 14, and defending champion Hunter Mahan was 4 up at the turn against Matteo Manassero.

''It's hard to keep your hands warm,'' Mahan said. ''You're feeling of everything just isn't quite there. By the last three shots we hit, it was unbelievable, crazy.''

The best competition might have come after play ended.

Rickie Fowler wound up and fired snowballs from the parking lots. The caddies spent an hour having a snowball fight, though most of the players stayed inside.

That included Carl Pettersson, a guy who tries to see the glass half-full.

''This is one time I have the advantage of being fat,'' Pettersson said.

With delays like this, he might have company.

''It seems like every rain delay — or snow delay — that we have, you just seem to sit there and eat dessert,'' Day said. ''And there's a bunch of yummy chocolates in there.''

This was the second time in three years that wintry weather interrupted the Match Play Championship. Light snow covered everything but tee boxes and greens the morning of Luke Donald's victory over Martin Kaymer in the 2011 championship match. It cleared before the match, but there was a brief delay because of sleet that turned greens white.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Charles Howell III, Ian Poulter, Jason Day, Bo Van Pelt, John Senden, Carl Pettersson

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