SHANE LOWRY struck the first blow against Rory McIlroy at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in the Arizona desert yesterday ... with a snowball!
McIlroy was being interviewed by Sky TV's Tim Barter when the missile came hurtling in, catching the Holywood star nicely on the shoulder.
"That was my opponent," blurted McIlroy, breaking into a broad grin as, in the background, dense snow bucketed down onto the course at the Ritz-Carlton Resort.
Play was halted at 11.07 local time with 23 of 32 first-round matches on the course, 55 minutes before world No 1 McIlroy and his good friend Lowry had been scheduled to tee off in their keenly anticipated all-Ireland battle.
Though the snow had stopped falling two hours later, the course was still covered in a deep white cloak, so it came as no surprise when play was abandoned for the day not long after 1.0.
Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell were on the first green when the hooter first sounded. McDowell was 28 feet from the hole in two and lining up a birdie putt, while Harrington had a four-footer for par after hitting his approach into deep right rough.
At that point, a howling southerly wind was driving stinging shards of sleet across the desert, while hailstones gathering on the greens made putting impossible.
Within minutes of play being halted, the snow came belting down. Morning frost and bitterly cold weather is not unusual on Dove Mountain, just outside Tucson – snow fell on the morning of the 2011 Match Play final between Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer.
Yet nearly an inch and a half of snow blanketed the course and surrounding cacti, sparking cabin fever in the locker-room, leading to intense snowball fights between some of the world's leading golfers, while others built snowmen instead of shooting them.
"It's officially ridiculous," McIlroy laughed giddily, gesturing at the falling snow. "It's probably lucky I've added a little extra weight to my putter and changed the shaft ... I'll need it to get the ball through the snow on the greens!"
After play was abandoned, PGA Tour rules official Mark Russell said: "We have only a 64-man field here this week and feel like we can get back on time.
"The storm cell is forecast to pass through this afternoon and the snow is expected to clear off the course in a matter of hours, so play will resume in the morning."
Though clear skies are expected from today, it will remain cold and breezy and Russell was unable to say at what time the first round will recommence as frost is expected in the morning.
Sergio Garcia must return to the 16th green today to attempt a 12-foot putt for a birdie that could polish off Thongchai Jaidee, who trails by two in the first match.
The last time snow postponed golf for a day was at the Tucson Open in 2001. This Arizona City is nicknamed The Old Pueblo. 'The Cold Pueblo' seemed more accurate yesterday.
There were six matches fortunate enough to escape the elements.
Ian Poulter will be supremely confident of closing out his clash with Scotland's Stephen Gallacher and so progressing past the first round for the first time since he won this title in 2010.
The Englishman is three up with six holes remaining, having kept his head the better in the madness. Poulter struck a wedge to five feet to win the fourth, although he missed a six-foot putt on the next to hand it back.
But with the gusts rising, Gallacher's game began to become ragged.
Justin Rose enjoys a healthy lead over Korea's KJ Choi, the world No 6 putting impressively to steal two ahead through nine. Lee Westwood has the same advantage over Rafa Cabrera Bello after five, while Chris Wood is level with Bubba Watson after six.
"It was like playing in Bristol in January," said Wood. In truth, this would even have seemed freakish in a west of Ireland winter.
WGC-Accenture Match Play,
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