Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
# Eye of the storm
Storm doesn't damage course, but Mahan does
Doral was battered by a storm that wrecked TV towers and the leaderboard.

IN A DINING room at Doral, players gathered in front of the window to watch a spectacular storm with 50 mph gusts that raged through palm trees and eventually toppled two TV towers and the monster scoreboard.

Hunter Mahan was oblivious to most of this. He was in his room, riding out the delay in the Cadillac Championship, until getting a text from his caddie that included a picture of a TV tower that crashed into a pond behind the ninth green.

It looked as though Thursday would be no time to be playing golf.

Mahan is only too happy they did.

The calm after the storm turned out to be the perfect occasion for low scoring. Mahan birdied his first four holes, shot 30 on the back nine and was atop the leaderboard at 7-under par through 11 holes when the round was suspended by darkness.

All but the nine players in the 66-man field were to return Friday morning to finish the first round, and the tournament should easily get back on schedule.

That includes Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who are still trying to get started.

Sure, they were among 44 players under par, but just barely.

Woods hooked one tee shot so far that it nearly went into a pond he probably didn’t know was there. The culprit was the putter, however, for he missed five birdie putts inside 15 feet on his birdie-free opening nine holes. His first birdie came on the par-5 first, and that came on an eagle putt that caught the lip. He added another birdie and was 1 under with three holes remaining.

Mickelson birdied the two par 5s among his opening three holes, but made no progress the rest of the way and was at 2 under. Woods and Mickelson are playing in the same group with US Open champion Graeme McDowell, who did made a lot of putts, and it’s a good thing. Otherwise, he might not be at 1 under. Mickelson said:

“We didn’t play our best, but we didn’t play terrible. We’re in good position tomorrow to come back out, finish the round strong and play our second round.”

The other featured group — the top three players in the world ranking — lived up to their billing. Martin Kaymer, in his second week as the new No. 1, opened with three straight birdies and was 5 under through 10 holes. Match Play winner Luke Donald (No. 3) birdied the 10th hole to join him at 5 under, while Lee Westwood (No. 2) was at 4 under.

“I had a fantastic start,” Kaymer said. “But to be honest, it was not that difficult today. You can see the scores. A bunch of people are under par, so it doesn’t seem that difficult.”

Mahan went out in 30 on the back nine, which included birdie putts of 35 and 40 feet. At 7 under, he was two shots clear of Charley Hoffman, who had a 5-under 67.

Among those at five under with still more golf to play in the first round were 19-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan and 48-year-old Vijay Singh, who only got into this tournament last week. Nick Watney and Matt Kuchar also were at 5 under.

Mahan didn’t miss a green and didn’t come close to making a bogey. Mahan said:

“I guess with that storm, it brought some tranquility to the golf course. Because there was just no wind. There was nothing out there.”

There was plenty of wind for one scary hour.

Woods and Mickelson were on their way to the 10th tee to start the round when dark clouds gathered and the siren sounded to stop play. Players on the course were brought into the clubhouse, and that’s when the action began.

Gusts that reached 52 mph knocked down the large, manual scoreboard — a traditional fixture at Doral beyond the lake to the left of the 18th green — and left it in pieces. A stationary camera in a TV tower behind the ninth green captured video of another TV tower behind the eighth green crashing down into a bunker.

Moments later, the camera went from showing green grass to a gray sky and then went blank. The tower where it was stationed was blown over backward into a pond, with the camera going to the bottom. Divers had to retrieve it.

NBC Sports analyst Roger Maltbie picked through the pieces of the monster board and said, “Been a long time since I’ve been on a leaderboard.”

The humor was appropriate, for no one was hurt, and tournament resumed without much of a hitch.

In fact, it was close to perfect.

“The course is in perfect shape,” Mahan said. “Good players and a good golf course and benign conditions, you’re going to have some good scores.”

- AP

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