Europe leads early as heavy rains halt Ryder Cup
NEWPORT, Wales (AP) Workers scurried around the greens with squeegees, furiously pushing the water away before every putt. Players sloshed down soaked fairways, desperately searching for a spot to hit from that was somewhat dry. The Americans couldn't even stay dry in their gaudy rainsuits.
Finally, there was no way to go on.
The Ryder Cup was halted in the middle of the fourball matches Friday morning because of heavy rain that turned Celtic Manor into a water-logged mess.
"The first thing I need is to find a hair dryer," quipped PGA championship winner Martin Kaymer, who played the opening match for Europe with Lee Westwood.
The home team was off to a good start, leading three of the four best-ball matches when play was suspended for the first time since the 1997 Ryder Cup in Spain.
"It's a shame," U.S. assistant captain Jeff Sluman said. "There's 10 years of planning that went into this, and we're held hostage by the weather."
The forecast called for the rain to move out by early afternoon, but that didn't pan out. Officials pushed back two deadlines for getting the course back in shape and said it would be at least 4 p.m. local time before they could even consider resuming play.
With only a few extra hours built into a tight three-day schedule of matches, it looked as though the first Ryder Cup in Wales could be headed for a Monday finish.
Impromtu rivers crisscrossed the course, including a particularly wide stream of water flowing down the middle of the 18th fairway, dumping into a pond in front of the green.
"We will see play again this afternoon," insisted Mike McClellan, the Ryder Cup meteorologist. "I can't speak for the golf course, but weather-wise we should be fine."
The Americans, meanwhile, were more concerned with staying dry.
Their rainsuits were panned by British television commentators, including renowned U.S. coach Butch Harmon, as looking more suited for a basketball team. And they didn't work, either. Amazingly, American officials had to hustle over to the merchandise tent, where fans shop, to snatch up about 20 replacement suits on the picked-over shelves.
The rain gear ordered by U.S. captain Corey Pavin was made by Sun Mountain, which provided a navy blue suit with white stripes that had "USA" and the players' names on the back.
"We were disappointed with the performance of them, and we just fixed it," Pavin said. "They were not doing what we wanted them to do, so we went out and bought some more waterproofs."
The new suits, made by ProQuip, have only a Ryder Cup logo, without any special markings for a U.S. uniform, Mason said. They cost about $350 apiece.
The Europeans couldn't resist poking a little fun at the Americans' plight.
"Just have to say our waterproofs are performing very well!" Rory McIlroy tweeted.
The Twenty Ten course, which was built especially for the Ryder Cup, has a complex drainage system that allows the water to flow off quickly. But first, it had to stop raining.
"Our people, we feel, probably need about an hour of pushing water to make it better than it was when we started," said John Paramor, the European Tour's chief referee. "So that is our goal."
The players, meanwhile, headed back to the clubhouse and tried to pass the time. Ian Poulter tweeted a picture of Padraig Harrington sleeping on the floor of the European locker room, using a bag as a pillow.
The defending champion Americans got off to a shaky start, missing the fairway with five of their first six tee shots. Phil Mickelson was the only one to hit it where he wanted - and he flew his next shot over the green.
Amazingly, the only match the U.S. was leading was the last one. That's the slot where Pavin made the heavily debated decision to pair up two rookies, Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton, but they rewarded his faith early on with birdies at the first two holes.
Overton rolled in a long putt from behind the first green, and the long-hitting Watson made birdie at the par-5 second for a 2-up lead on Harrington and Luke Donald.
The Europeans, trying to recapture the gold chalice they lost at Valhalla two years ago, were leading the other three matches.
Westwood and Kaymer bolted to a 2-up advantage through five holes on Mickelson and Dustin Johnson in the leadoff match. Graeme McDowell and McIlroy were 1 up on Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar after four holes, the same edge that Poulter and Ross Fisher held on Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker through No. 3.
The U.S. hoped the delay might stem the European momentum, or at least clear out the nasty weather. European captain Colin Montgomerie felt his team had an edge playing in damp conditions.
"It's not fun for anyone, agreed," Monty said shortly after the opening shot. "But it's probably less fun for the Americans. In America, when it rains it usually thunders, too, and you can't play. I just hope it doesn't get so bad, the course gets so water-logged, that we can't play."
That's just what happened.
Even with the players able to take relief in the fairway, there simply wasn't any place to drop without winding up in another puddle.
"If this was any other golf tournament, it would have been stopped earlier," said Thomas Bjorn, an assistant captain for the Europeans. "It's too wet to really continue. We're in a situation where people are considering dropping from fairways into the rough. Then it just becomes a bit silly."
The atmosphere was electric shortly after sunrise - well, assuming it rose behind the thick, gray clouds - as thousands of umbrella-toting fans chanted "Ole! Ole! Ole!" in hopes of spurring on a European team that featured six rookies. An amphitheater-style stadium was built around the first tee, allowing 2,000 fans to watch the opening shots.
The Americans have five rookies of their own - plus the world's top-ranked player, Woods.
Pavin decided to send out Woods in the third slot, instead of the opening or closing matches that he played in previous Ryder Cups. Maybe he needed a change after struggling through a winless year on the course and the collapse of his marriage, done in by numerous extramarital affairs.
Woods made a birdie at the par-5 second hole, laying up with his second shot and sticking a wedge to 6 feet. But Poulter pushed the Europeans back into the lead at No. 3, rolling in a 25-foot birdie.
Pavin got off to a shaky start at the opening ceremony, and the suit debacle only added to his woes.
First, he overlooked Cink while introducing the 12-man U.S. team. The captain made a quick recovery when he realized his gaffe, urging the crowd to give "a special, special welcome" to the good-natured Cink. But then Pavin said his player was from Sea Island, Ga. - actually the residence of assistant captain Davis Love III - instead of suburban Atlanta.
Of course, you don't get a point for acing the introductions.
The only thing that really counts is what happens on the course - assuming the rain lets up.