Golf: Storm too near for Westwood

Click to follow
A LITTLE too close for comfort was the verdict of Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke yesterday, as lightning forced the first round of the Benson and Hedges Malaysian Open to be halted.

Their relief at reaching the safety of the clubhouse was nothing compared to that of the Australian television cameraman, Gil Oberhofer. He was on a tower behind the 14th green when he felt an electric shock strike his back. An ambulance was sent for, but Oberhofer assured the medical personnel that he felt fine and was suffering no ill-effects.

The tournament director, David Garland, said that it may have been a build-up of static rather than an actual strike which Oberhofer experienced.

Westwood described it as "ridiculous" that he and 55 other players were still on the course when the decision to suspend play was taken late in the afternoon.

"We were on the 15th tee, which is just about the most exposed and open spot on the whole course, and we then heard that somebody had been struck just below us," he said.

"That was very close," added Clarke, who was playing in the match immediately behind.

Another relieved player was John Bickerton, who has twice been struck by lightning during his career. After two sevens in an outward 40, he had fought his way back to level par and was on his final hole when play was called off and he could take cover.

Spectators were killed by strikes at a US Open and a US PGA championship earlier this decade and Lee Trevino is among other players to have been hit in the past.

Valen Tan, the tournament director for the Asian Tour - jointly running the event with the European tour - said hooters were sounded the moment that the lightning device on the clubhouse roof registered a strike within a five to 10-mile radius.

Westwood and Clarke, both making their first appearances of the season, will resume their rounds at 8am today with a lot of ground to make up.

Westwood, the world No 6, is three-over-par with four to play and Clarke two-over after 13 holes.

The lead was established early in the day - before the humidity which preceded the storm became a real factor - by the American Christian Pena and China's Zhang Lian-wei, both of whom had six-under-par rounds of 66.

Pena and Zhang are one ahead of the Filipino Frankie Minoza and another American based on the Asian Tour, Gerry Norquist. He still has the par- five 18th to complete.

The leading British player is David Howell, at three-under with two to go. Westwood's new brother-in-law, Andrew Coltart, is in with a 70.

Westwood confessed to feeling rusty as he three-putted the second and third greens. He turned with a tally of 37, double-bogeyed the short 12th, birdied the next, but then dropped another shot just before the suspension.

Taiwan's Lu Wen-teh holed-in-one at the 216-yard second on his way to a level par 71, but missed out on a special prize. A Jaguar car is on offer at the 16th - and any player achieving an ace on the 12th wins his weight in whisky.