Torrential rain on an already saturated Riviera Country Club course delayed the Nissan Open for four hours in Los Angeles today.
The forecast of more downpours to come over the weekend was bad news for the spectators, but had huge potential benefits for England’s Brian Davis and Luke Donald and Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke.
The three sat atop the leaderboard overnight, Davis following a six-under-par 65 and Donald and Clarke with 66s to share second place with American Brett Quigley.
Only once in the tournament’s 78-year history has there been a failure to complete 72 holes, but there was a considerable doubt over whether four rounds would be possible, even if the event went into Monday.
Two players, Americans Jonathan Kaye and John Riegger, withdrew and a joker working the media centre scoreboard had written that Kaye’s exit was due to the fact he was a non-swimmer and Riegger’s because he was “aquaphobic.”
Davis could not even be sure if he would get back on the course today. He was in the very last group at a scheduled 5.15pm, but that was dependent on no more hold-ups and the opening day’s play had had to be suspended before 6pm because of darkness.
Clarke was a late starter too, but in contrast Donald was in the second group out. In the soggy conditions he covered the front nine in a level-par 35, but by then found himself in a six-way tie right behind Davis.
Donald hit a 160-yard approach to four feet to birdie the third, but a bad tee shot cost him a shot on the short sixth, the hole Clarke aced in his first round.
The High Wycombe golfer’s ball found the green, but between him and the flag was a bunker and his chip over it came up 12 feet short and he did not hit the putt hard enough either.
Alongside him and Clarke had moved Canadian Mike Weir, seeking a third successive win in the event, Australian Robert Allenby and Americans Chad Campbell and James Driscoll. Tiger Woods was down to joint eighth on four under as a result, but was not due to tee off again until 4.15pm.
Leader Davis is enjoying a new lease of life after the crushing disappointing on missing out on a Ryder Cup debut last September.
The 30-year-old Londoner missed the halfway cut in the final qualifying event, taking a bogey six on the final hole, but in December won the US Tour school and has taken that boost of confidence into this season.
The son-in-law of former England goalkeeper Ray Clemence is 88th in the world, but his performances do not seem to have made much of an impact in some circles yet.
The Los Angeles Times report on the first round asked: “Who in the world (rankings) is Brian Davis?”
Donald and Clarke, of course, are much better known, both members of the record-breaking Ryder Cup team in Detroit, both winners on the US Tour and both in the world’s top 20.
At the start of 2004 Donald was only 134th on the rankings, but then came two wins in Europe, his Ryder Cup wild card, his impressive debut and three weeks ago a runners-up finish to Woods in the Buick Invitational, the event in which he lost a play-off to John Daly last season.
Asked his goals for this year, he said: “Top 10 in the world, win again out here (on the US Tour) and be in contention at two of the majors.”
An American journalist said that seemed “pretty ambitious”, but he replied: “I don’t think it’s that ambitious – I’m 19th in the world.”
Clarke’s standing needs no such underlining. He has won two World Championship events, including the Match Play in San Diego he returns to next week.
“It’s not quite just another week there because of the success I’ve had, but Riviera is one of the best courses in the world and I’m not just here to warm up,” he said.
Of the other Britons out early, Justin Rose and Paul Casey had two early birdies, but at one over still needed to make forward progress to be sure of surviving the halfway cut.
Casey, returning from a month-long injury lay-off, had been greeted just before his first round by a few shouts of “USA, USA” from fans clearly aware of his anti-American comments after the Ryder Cup.
Winner of the World Cup with Donald in November, Casey just turned and laughed. As heckling went, it was mild stuff.