Date: April 03, 2009

Play halted in Houston

Greg Norman was level par after eight holes at the Houston Open before howling winds brought a halt to play with only half the field having started. Play was stopped in bright sunshine at 12:50pm local time at Redstone Golf Club as winds of up to 45 miles per hour caused havoc on the closely-shaved fast greens and the Tournament Course was deemed unplayable by PGA Tour officials. At 4pm they then officially postponed play for the day after a wind advisory was issued for the area until 7pm local time in Houston. During play earlier in the day, golfers had seen their golf balls blown from their position on the greens. “We just couldn&apost conduct the competition so we had to call it,” PGA Tour vice president of Rules Mark Russell told tournament broadcaster the Golf Channel. The first round was not set to resume until Friday morning with 72 players still to tee off in the US PGA Tour event many are using as a final tune-up before next week&aposs Masters Tournament. Norman is using the event as preparation for his first Masters tournament since 2002 and looked in good touch in difficult conditions shooting two birdies to go alongside two bogeys. Fellow Australian Peter Lonard also finished his round on even par after only ten completed holes but it was Englishman Lee Westwood who jumped to an early lead. Westwood will begin the day with a two-shot lead over the field at a par-72, 7,457-yard course that has been set up to imitate conditions at Augusta National. Redstone, though, had the added challenge of high winds and exposed greens but Westwood was more than a match for the task as he went into the early lead at four under after nine holes of his opening round. “It&aposs a bit early in the tournament to be doing interviews,” Westwood told the PGA Tour Network, “but I&aposll take it anytime, leading the tournament.” “It&aposs just unfortunate we&aposve had to stop playing today because it&aposs such beautiful weather.” The Ryder Cup star birdied the first, second and seventh holes before sinking a 45-foot putt for a birdie two at the ninth. He added: “I hit lots of good shots over the nine holes. Four under and it could probably have been a couple better than that but I&aposm please to be four under par, especially in those conditions and I&aposm looking forward to just hopefully carrying it on for the rest of the week.” Westwood was about to putt for birdie from 17 feet at the par-four 10th when the hooter sounded to halt play. “We were given the option of putting out while it was unplayable or coming back in the morning when maybe the wind will have dropped and the greens have been cut.” “Even I&aposm clever enough to go with the second option.” Westwood&aposs birdie on the ninth gave him a two-stroke lead over eight players at two under including including Americans JB Holmes and Justin Leonard and Korea&aposs Charlie Wi. Fellow Englishman Greg Owen had been among that group before a bogey five at the 11th sent him a further shot back alongside six players including veteran American and University of Houston graduate Fred Couples, the 49-year-old US 2009 Presidents Cup captain having played seven holes starting on the back nine. At even par after seven holes was Ireland&aposs Padraig Harrington, who had birdied his second and third holes having started at the 10th tee, only to bogey his sixth and seventh. Sweden&aposs Daniel Chopra was also at even after six, while Alex Cejka of Germany was one over after nine with Luke Donald of England and Fredrik Jacobsen of Sweden both two over having played 10 and 11 holes respectively. Also struggling in the windy conditions was world No.2 Phil Mickelson, playing for the first time since winning the WGC-CA Championship at Doral two weeks ago. The left-handed American was three over after eight holes alongside fellow major winner Angel Cabrera of Argentina. Spain&aposs Alvaro Quiros was having a terrible time as he sunk to nine over par after 12 holes thanks to two double bogeys and five bogeys. His compatriot Sergio Garcia was among the players who will have to wait until Friday to get their tournaments under way following a day that had already been delayed more than two hours due to heavy rain. Northern Ireland teenager Rory McIlory, his compatriot Darren Clarke, Colombia&aposs Camilo Villegas, Swedish duo Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson and England&aposs Paul Casey and Justin Rose were also among those who failed to get going. Australian Wade Ormsby has shot a two-under-par 69 to finish the opening round in a tie for 12th as England&aposs Ross McGowan equalled the lowest score of his European Tour career to lead the Estoril Portuguese Open. Ormsby shot four birdies and two bogies to be the leading Australian one shot ahead of compatriot Michael Curtain. Back at the Oitavos Dunes course where he was the half-way pacesetter in only his second Tour event two years ago, McGowan produced a superb seven-under-par 64 in windy conditions. It put him two ahead of Northern Ireland&aposs Michael Hoey – and 11 in front of 55-year-old Sam Torrance, who could not recover from a triple-bogey eight on his first hole as he extended his record number of Tour events to 705. Asked where he would like to be in four or five years&apos time, McGowan, English amateur champion in 2006, said: “Obviously I&aposd like to be No.1 in the world, but it is how you get there – not all of us are as gifted as Tiger (Woods).” He is currently ranked 163 places behind Woods, a drop of nearly 80 places on February last year, but he did nearly land his first Tour title two months ago. McGowan led the Johnnie Walker Championship in Perth by two with five to play but, while he bogeyed the 14th and 16th, 18-year-old New Zealand amateur Danny Lee birdied four of the last six to win by one and become the youngest ever champion on the circuit. “I felt a little hard done by. I didn&apost really make any mistakes, but sometimes you don&apost get the breaks,” McGowan continued. Because Lee was unable to accept the 215,000 first prize, McGowan&aposs share of second earned him 145,000 and his “little present” to himself was an Aston Martin. “It&aposs quite nippy and a lot of fun but it&aposs more about winning than the money. You want to be as good as you can be,” he added. McGowan birdied three of his first four holes, was five under with two to play and then holed from 15 feet at the sixth and two-putted the long seventh. Hoey, the former British amateur champion, is also seeking his maiden Tour win having led after 36 holes in Madeira only a fortnight ago. “I picked up a bit of a cold there and didn&apost really feel with it last week, so I went home and I feel strong again now,” he said. “Those decisions are almost more important than the ones you make with your game.” The highlight of his round was an eagle three on the downwind 573-yard 16th, where he hit a drive and six-iron to 30 feet. Yorkshireman Simon Dyson is battling with a neck problem but still managed a 67. “Every drive I went for I blocked about 40 yards right,” he said. “It&aposs not easing up at all and I&aposm going to see somebody next week.” His score was matched by Scot Alastair Forsyth, who, along with ex-Ryder Cup star David Howell, was beaten in a play-off by Frenchman Gregory Bourdy last year, and by Spaniard Carlos Del Moral. Howell is well down the field after a 73 but Bourdy birdied five of the last seven for a 69.