NEWPORT, Wales – Another cup pushed the Ryder Cup into October, so naturally there was plenty of second-guessing when the weather became a major issue.
The opening matches Friday were halted for more than seven hours by heavy rain at Celtic Manor, the first suspension at the event since 1997.
When the Ryder Cup returns to Europe at Scotland’s Gleneagles in 2014, officials are hoping it will be held earlier in the year. But obviously, there are no guarantees about the weather.
“We are becoming unlucky,” said George O’Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour. “This is a localized thing. Golf tournaments have lost days to rain before. We play the Wales Open here (in June), and we have lost a day’s play as well, which is just unlucky.”
The Ryder Cup is traditionally held in September, when there might have been a chance of better weather in Wales. This is the latest the event has been staged in Europe since 1965, when it was held from Oct. 7-9 at Royal Birkdale in southern England.
But the PGA Tour concluded its lucrative FedEx Cup at the Tour Championship last week in Atlanta (where, in an interesting twist, it rained the final day as well), so the Ryder Cup was bumped back on the calendar.
“We have to have the best week when the players are available,” O’Grady said. “Whereas it’s quite easy for us to move our weeks, this is difficult with the scheduling in the United States, and it’s a constant discussion with the PGA of America, the PGA Tour and their schedules.”
The PGA Tour’s current television agreement ends after the 2012 season. The European Tour and PGA of America are hopeful that leads to less conflict between the two cups.
O’Grady said there were no regrets about picking Celtic Manor to host this year’s event.
“It does rain here,” O’Grady said. “We have been here in the buildup. We have had some beautiful days in that time the last couple of weeks. We have also had some horrendous ones.”
Celtic Manor said the heavy rains – nearly 1.5 inches fell during a 22-hour period beginning Thursday evening – were a freak occurrence, equaling about 40 percent of what the area normally receives during a month at this time of year.
“More than ($1.6 million) was spent on drainage during construction of the Twenty Ten course, but there comes a point following persistent, heavy rainfall when the ground becomes saturated,” the club said in a statement.
SORRY, NO REFUNDS: Those 45,000 fans who paid for eight matches and didn’t get to see any of them completed will not be getting their money back.
How about another tournament at Celtic Manor next year?
The host club said there is no provision at the Ryder Cup for refunds because of inclement weather, but it encouraged fans to keep their Friday tickets pending an announcement “regarding ticket opportunities on European Tour competitions in 2011.”
It’s not surprising that no refund is forthcoming. Tickets costs a minimum of about $160 each day, which means one day of sales generates more than $7 million in revenues.
The players were appreciative of those who came out in the morning, creating a stirring atmosphere around the first tee even in a steady rain, and those who stayed around to watch a few more holes late in the afternoon after a delay of more than seven hours.
“It was amazing,” England’s Luke Donald said. “If I was in that situation, I’m not sure what I would do. But we have loyal fans and it’s a big part of Europe’s success.”
As for giving those fans some financial consideration, Celtic Manor said it would make an announcement on www.rydercup.com at the end of the event.
LEFTY’S COMEBACK: Phil Mickelson got off to a rough start, and it didn’t look like things would get much better when he returned from a long rain delay. From the middle of the sixth fairway, he dumped his first shot after the break into the water.
But Mickelson, playing with Dustin Johnson, got things together around the turn, making three straight birdies to leave the Americans just one hole down to Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer when play was halted after the 12th.
Maybe Lefty was inspired by his wife, Amy, who cheered him on in just her second trip to the course since being diagnosed with breast cancer. She turned up at Augusta National when her husband won the Masters in April.
“Me and Phil started to get it going,” Johnson said. “So we are going to come out tomorrow, do the same thing, be aggressive and that’s all you can do.”
LUKE’S MARK: With the sun setting behind the hills and darkness closing in, Luke Donald faced about a 6-footer to halve the ninth hole for the Europeans.
He decided to wait until Saturday to take the potentially crucial putt.
“Tomorrow is going to be fresh green and it was getting dark, so I didn’t feel comfortable taking it,” said Donald, who is playing with Padraig Harrington. The Europeans are 1 down to Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton.
The American rookies certainly felt comfortable about their games, even though they were the most debated team sent out by captain Corey Pavin. Overton rolled in a mammoth birdie putt from off the back of the green at No. 1, the long-hitting Watson made birdie at the second, and the Americans were still up at the end of the day.
Jittery as he headed out for his first Ryder Cup, Overton calmed himself with his big putt.
“It was probably the most unbelievable shot of my life,” he said. “To start the day like that was awesome.”
TIGER TALES: Playing in an unfamiliar position, Tiger Woods had a nice, steady day at the course. A couple of birdies left him in a match that was all-square through 10 holes.
Woods was sent out in the third match with Steve Stricker, a change from past Ryder Cups, where he was used in the leadoff or anchor roles. The move shouldn’t have been surprising, given Woods’ rough year on and off the course.
“It’s basically an eight-hole boat race,” Woods said. “Basically, that’s what it boils down to. We have to go out there and start off on the par 5 (No. 11) and make some birdies.”
Woods put the Americans ahead for the first time at No. 9 with a 40-yard pitch to about 2 feet for a birdie. Ian Poulter, who was partnered with Ross Fisher, made a birdie putt at the 10th to even up the match before play was called because of darkness.
DIVOTS: With the schedule change, Tiger Woods will not be benched. There were questions going into the Ryder Cup about whether captain Corey Pavin would sit the world’s top-ranked player for at least one session. … When play resumed, Steve Stricker hooked his approach on the fourth hole into muck so thick that the ball plugged and he could barely see it. As he looked at the predicament, a fan said, “Welcome to Wales.”