Woods, Garcia shake on it to calm racism storm
SERGIO GARCIA was afforded an opportunity to break the ice with Tiger Woods as thunderstorms and torrential rain blighted the first day of US Open week at Merion.
As is customary with early riser Woods on practice days at the Majors, he was ready to embark on dawn patrol at 6.45 yesterday when powerful storm cells brought proceedings to a halt before they had even started.
So instead of being on the course, Tiger was at the practice range when Garcia showed up and, to his credit, the Spaniard went straight up to him and proffered his hand.
Woods accepted the handshake but few words were exchanged in this perfunctory encounter. Garcia was expected to express his regrets to the world No 1 at a private meeting later.
Prior to yesterday, Garcia had failed with attempts to contact Woods directly by telephone and apologise for suggesting at the European Tour's awards banquet at Wentworth last month that he would have Tiger round to his house every night at the US Open and "serve him fried chicken".
This crass, racially-insensitive remark arose after Garcia was asked if he would invite Woods to dinner in Merion following their well-publicised spat at Sawgrass.
Yet if anyone had cause to be grateful for the deluge which led play to be suspended for four hours yesterday morning, it's Garcia's Ryder Cup colleague Rory McIlroy.
After two days of intensive practice on the East Course last week, McIlroy was not scheduled to report until today. But wherever he was yesterday, the Holywood native surely smiled as he recalled the last two occasions rain disrupted proceedings at the Majors.
McIlroy romped to victory at 16-under-par when Congressional, venue for the 2011 US Open, was doused persistently, while practice for last August's US PGA at Kiawah, where the 24-year-old also won by a record eight strokes, was severely disrupted by storms.
McIlroy's prospects of winning a third Major this week improve with every drop that's added to the cataclysmic four and a quarter inches which flooded this suburb of Philadelphia last Friday.
Revealingly, McIlroy finished first and 10th in two wet US Opens on the east coast and missed the cut in two dry ones on the west coast.
Ernie Els, twice a winner in 20 previous visits to the US Open arena, expressed regret that this classic old course might be rendered almost defenceless by weather.
Its fairways and greens are soft and receptive, especially to the advances of players like McIlroy, should the Ulsterman find confidence to match superior recent ball-striking.
"I think it's not going to bare its teeth the way it should," Els said. "I know guys were hoping for a firm test. The scoring would have been something like Olympic last year, probably lower, if it was firm."
Still, it's important to explode the myth that at a paltry 6,996 yards, Merion is too short for modern Major championship golf.
Amid any intriguing mix of the long and the short, the East Course boasts the biggest par-three, par-four and par-five holes by far on the Grand Slam circuit in 2013.
Yes, five of its par-fours measure considerably less than 400 yards but the gruelling 521-yard 18th, climax to one of the toughest five-hole finishing stretches in golf, is 45 yards longer than the formidable 11th at Augusta, while Merion's fifth, at 504 yards, is no shrimp.
Neither Augusta, Muirfield nor Oak Hill have a par-five which goes remotely close to the 628-yard fourth here, while Merion also offers three monster par-threes, the 256-yard third, 246-yard 17th and 236-yard fourth. It all made for a great challenge, before the deluge.