Snow — in Arizona — halts Match Play Championship

MARANA, Ariz. — The best 64 golfers in the world got together for the first time this season and a snow fight broke out.

In the most bizarre episode of a PGA Tour season already filled with wacky weather, the opening round of the Match Play Championship lasted only 3½ hours Wednesday until it was suspended by a winter storm that covered Dove Mountain with nearly 2 inches of snow.

Rickie Fowler wasn’t firing at flags. He was slinging snowballs.

There was no “snowman” on anyone’s scorecard — golf slang for an 8 — but there was one built on a green at the practice range.

“I’ve never actually played golf to the point where we’ve actually stopped for snow, which is kind of crazy,” said Jason Day of Australia, who was 6 up through 10 holes over Zach Johnson. “A little crazy for it to snow in the desert, as well. But that’s just how it is. Mother Nature can do whatever she wants.”

Ten matches had not even started when players were called off the course as slush was starting to form on the greens. Two hours later, there was a blanket of snow as temperatures dipped as low as 33 degrees. The rest of the day was called off.

“I’ve seen snow on the course when I was a kid, but nothing like that on any of the tours,” said Rory McIlroy, whose match, along with Tiger Woods’, was among those that never got started.

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.

The opening round was to resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, and the second round would start sometime that afternoon. The 64-man field is cut in half after each round, and with sunshine in the forecast the rest of the week, it should not be difficult to get caught up.

So much for a tour that follows the sun.

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, and then the 54-hole event was over 29 hours after it started.

And now this.

“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 afternoon to polish off his 75th career win. There were frost delays in the opening rounds of Phoenix earlier this month.

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.”

Poulter was cold from the start, rubbing his hands together in the morning chill of high desert — about 2,800 feet above sea level — and he jumped in place to keep warm. He built a 3-up lead over Stephen Gallacher through 12 holes.

In only a short amount of time for golf, there was some impressive play considering the conditions.

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

“We knew this was coming, so I think we were all somewhat prepared for the cold and everything,” Mahan said. “We also didn’t think we were actually high enough to get snow, and get this amount. We go sleet and ice, and you can’t putt or hit shots with ice coming at you.”

The best competition might have come after play ended.

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. With it being this cold, the Swede said, “This is one time I have the advantage of being fat.”

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.”

None of the top four seeds had teed off. Charles Howell III, who hasn’t faced Woods since the third round of the 1996 U.S. Amateur, hit four putts on the practice green when he arrived. That was the extent of his work Wednesday.

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

The last time the opening round was not finished was in 2005, when it never got started because of rain that put just about every hole at La Costa under water.

The tour wasted no time in sending players back to their hotels, even after it stopped snowing. There was a chance for more snow later Wednesday, and while low temperatures are expected again Thursday morning, the rest of the forecast is fine.

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