More delays rock Classic

After two complete days lost to rain, the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta was suspended after little more than three hours on day three – by hail, sleet and even snow.

After two complete days lost to rain, the BellSouth Classic in Atlanta was suspended after little more than three hours on day three – by hail, sleet and even snow.

So much for it being called the final warm-up event for next week’s Masters.

American Rich Beem, having decided not to join Luke Donald, Ian Woosnam and three more Augusta-bound players who pulled out of the event before the start, resorted to tying a pair of socks round his head to keep his ears warm.

And even when conditions improved enough for the tournament to resume after a 100-minute delay the cold wind was so strong that US Open champion Retief Goosen’s putt for birdie on the 15th green stopped a foot from the hole and then was blown a further nine feet away.

At the end of the day the first round of a tournament which was supposed to have begun at 7am local time on Thursday was still a long way from being completed – and even though it has been extended into Monday like last week’s Players Championship it is almost certain it will be reduced to 54 holes.

Americans Scott McCarron and JL Lewis lead in the clubhouse following three-under-par 69s, but Billy Mayfair is one ahead of them with five holes of his opening round still to play.

Masters champion Phil Mickelson was six behind after double bogeys at both the 389-yard third and long sixth, his 15th and final hole of the day. Two wild drives left cost him those four dropped shots.

Leading European is Jose Maria Olazabal, joint sixth at two under with three to play.

Donald had pulled out on Thursday citing a sore shoulder and when the second day was lost as well European Ryder Cup captain Woosnam, Americans Chris DiMarco and Steve Flesch and Australian Stuart Appleby joined him in heading to Augusta.

That still left 20 Masters players in the field – and Beem and Goosen both thought it could work in their favour in the end.

Beem, round in a fine two-under-par 70 to be only one behind early leader JL Lewis, said: “I don’t think we’re going to play 72 holes now.

“I was worried about 36 on Monday and did think about pulling out as well, but playing in these conditions is not bad preparation for next week because you know it’s going to be tough at Augusta.

“I’m worn out right now, though. I’ve been up at 5am the last three mornings and then we get that snowstorm this morning.”

After handing in a level-par 72, Goosen commented: “I was thinking about whether to play too, but as I’m here now I might as well keep playing.

“I don’t think 36 on Monday is going to happen unless they make a very small cut. It could be good practice – I’ve played in weather like this at Augusta and there’s a pretty good chance it will be like this there as well.”

Miguel Angel Jimenez returned a level-par 72, but was concerned about a sore left forearm he had grazed falling down stairs at a restaurant on Friday evening.

Phillip Price and Brian Davis, not in the Masters field, shot 73 and 75 respectively, but Joakim Haeggman’s preparations for his Augusta debut turned into a nightmare. The Swede dropped seven shots in his first three holes, then put two pitches in the lake at the long 18th.

That was his ninth and he turned in an embarrassing 11 over 47 just before nightfall. At least he does not have to worry about a Monday finish now – a missed cut looks inevitable.

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