NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Golfers occasionally catch a break in rough weather because of when they tee off. That was the case for Ronnie Black on Friday.
Black was one of only nine players in a field of 81 to finish the first round of the ACE Group Classic after high winds that gusted near 40 miles an hour suspended play until Saturday.
Black shot a 69 and is tied for the lead at 3 under with both Fred Couples and Tommy Armour III, who finished 10 and 11 holes, respectively. This is Couples’ first full-field Champions Tour event, and Armour’s first ever.
“I had an advantage because I got out early, obviously, when the wind was probably only blowing 15 or 20 miles an hour,” said the 51-year-old Black, who has two top 10 finishes in 26 Tour events.
Black birdied Nos. 3, 5, 7 and 8 – all from 12 feet or closer – then scrambled to make par on the par-5 10th after hitting his tee shot in the water. He bogeyed No. 11, running a birdie putt 4 1/2 feet past the hole and missing the par putt coming back. He responded with a birdie on the par-5 12th, but bogeyed the par-3 15th.
Play was suspended at 12:39 p.m. when a number of holes were deemed unplayable. Golfers were allowed to finish the hole they were on, then called off the course at 1 p.m. Play was called for the day forty-five minutes later.
The first round will resume at 8 a.m. Saturday. Players will be re-paired for the second round, scheduled to tee off at 12:30 p.m.
It turns out No. 11, the most exposed hole on the course, was the real problem area as the winds picked up Friday.
“It’s a shame because it’s really the only hole,” said Champions Tour tournament director Brian Claar. “For a couple of minutes it’s playable, and then a couple of minutes it’s not.”
The clincher on No. 11 was the last group on the hole before play was suspended. Joey Sindelar hit a chip onto the green, and it rolled all the way back to him because of the wind. Then playing partner Bob Tway chipped to the left of the flag, and the ball rolled and rolled to the right – carried by the wind – before stopping in a sprinkler head.
Tour rules official Gene Smith was there watching.
“I threw some balls up and they came down and rolled off the green,” Smith said. “It was pretty obvious that there was no way we were going to be able to continue.”
Claar said the second round likely would not be finished Saturday, since the last group won’t tee off until 2:30 p.m. That means the second round would be completed early Sunday, and the field would be re-paired again and go off split tees for the finale.
Claar still expects the tournament to be completed by 5 p.m. Sunday, barring any more weather delays.