MARANA, Ariz. – They don’t keep official statistics for such things, but it’s safe to assume Mother Nature is staked to a commanding lead at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
A bitterly cold morning that began with ominous clouds soon became a sideways rain that eventually turned into a heavy snow, coating the fairways and greens at Dove Mountain on Wednesday and reducing grown men to snowball fights and amateur photography.
Brent Henley, Robert Garrigus’ caddie, laid down and made a snow angel.
A few other loopers scurried to the top balcony of the clubhouse, found the best angle of attack and lobbed snowballs at their unsuspecting colleagues.
Every player with a smartphone posted a photo on social media.
As for Jason Day, who authored one of the most impressive performances Wednesday?
“Well, there’s a bunch of yummy chocolates in (the locker room),” he said, “and you just sit there and eat chocolates and drink a lot of Coca-Cola.”
Sure, it was fun and games and gorging on snacks, but it also was some of the wackiest weather a few longtime Tour observers have ever seen. Asked where this ranks on his personal list of weird-weather occurrences, Mark Russell, who has worked for the Tour for the past 30-plus years, nodded his head and said softly, “It’s right there.”
Russell has gotten plenty of face time this season, which is always an alarming sign for golf fans. Already this year there has been a wind (Kapalua), fog (Torrey Pines) and now a snow delay. Next week the Tour heads east for the Florida Swing. Tour officials would be wise to brace for a locust attack.
Though unusual, this isn’t the first time it has snowed at a Tour event. In fact, in the last 40 years, it has snowed six times – four of which, incredibly, have come in the Tucson area. That includes the 2011 Match Play final here, when Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer awoke that Sunday morning to a dusting of snow and were delayed, albeit briefly, by a sleet-coated fairway.
Oh, was this different.
About an inch and a half of snow fell before play was officially called for the day at 1:05 p.m. local time. None of the 32 first-round matches were completed. Twenty of the 64 players have yet to reach the first green, including Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who were still an hour away from teeing off.
At least Webb Simpson hit a shot – OK, one. He smacked his opening tee shot, only to hear the horn sound to signal the suspension of play. So he marched down the fairway to mark his ball, then retreated – quickly – to the clubhouse as heavy snow and sleet began to fall.
Such conditions reminded the reigning U.S. Open champion of a college tournament in Las Vegas. During a delay, Simpson and his Wake Forest teammates purchased toboggans in the pro shop and charged them to the head coach’s credit card. “He wasn’t happy about it,” he said.
The snow also brought back good memories for Vermont’s own Keegan Bradley, once an avid skier who now must be considered one of the favorites here at Dove Mountain, especially if the Match Play becomes a slalom competition. Yes, he has played in snowy conditions “a million times,” but of Wednesday’s match against Marcus Fraser (in which he is all square through three holes), Bradley said, “This was pretty bad.”
Not like the players were ill-prepared. Day wore four layers of clothing, and said afterward that only the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George’s posed worse conditions. Of course, he seemed unaffected by the frigid conditions Wednesday. He went out in 4-under 32, including concessions, and built a 6-up lead over Zach Johnson with eight holes to play.
Justin Rose was on a similar tear, jumping out to a 4-up lead through five, only to lose a few holes and take a 2-up advantage into the back nine.
“It’s been amazing how accurate the forecast has been,” said Rose, uttering words never before spoken. “They’ve been talking about snow for about four days, and pretty much at 11, the forecast time, boom, it was down and the end of the day.”
After play was called, Tour meteorologist Stewart Williams soon arrived at the media center, always an ominous sign.
Russell joked that he prefers for Williams to have walk-around days – “That means he can walk around, goof off, do whatever he wants to do, and doesn’t have to sit there and look at that computer,” Russell said.
Wednesday at the Match Play was not one of those walk-around days, not even close, unless you count trudging from the course to the clubhouse in wet snow and socks.
“I worked the last two (at Pebble Beach and Riviera) and had a light two weeks,” Williams said, “so now I’m paying for it today.”