Golf: Zoeller shines in the rain: Storm delays play and soaks much-criticised Sawgrass course

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EARLIER in the week, when the golfers at The Players' Championship really had nothing to complain about, the buzzword of the tournament was 'lush'. The basis for the griping was the fact that the once fearsome TPC at Sawgrass was too green, too grassy, too slow - too lush. Nick Faldo commented that the greenskeeper must have gone mad. Tom Kite pointed out that Greg Norman's record-equalling score of 63 ought to have earned him a huge advantage on the field, instead of merely a two-stroke lead. 'What they need here is a 60mph wind and 0 per cent humidity to dry things out,' Kite said.

What they got was a monsoon yesterday morning that should produce a lushness that will make the pre-storm conditions look arid and bouncy.

The rain and lightning caused a three-hour suspension of play yesterday morning, and forced the conclusion of the second round to spill over to today. Most of the first- round leaders, including Norman and Colin Montgomerie, had late tee-times, did not start until three or four hours after the resumption of play, and would not be able to finish their rounds before darkness.

Fuzzy Zoeller, the former Masters and US Open champion, took the early lead with a 67. The 42- year-old Zoeller finished at 11 under par, two strokes ahead of Norman, who had not started. Zoeller had played just four holes when the siren blew, and had birdied two of them. 'I was really in a nice rhythm, and then they stopped play and I stiffened up. I never really got back into it as well after the delay. There's no telling what I would have shot had I been allowed to keep playing.'

Montgomerie started his round in third place, four strokes behind Zoeller, but after four straight pars, bogeyed the fifth hole to drop into a tie for seventh at six under par.

Seve Ballesteros, who had been three under par for the day after 17 holes, went into the water with his second shot on the final hole. A double-bogey put him out of the running for a weekend tee-time, as he shot a 71 for a one-over par total of 145.

THE PLAYERS' CHAMPIONSHIP (Sawgrass; Ponte Vedra; Fla) Early second-round scores (US unless stated): 133 F Zoeller 66 67. 137 H Irwin 67 70; G Hallberg 68 69. 138 E Fiori 70 68. 139 L Clements 68 71. 140 T Simpson 69 71; T Tryba 68 72; R Maltbie 71 69. 141 T Sieckmann 73 68; D Hammond 68 73. 142 B Langer (Ger) 74 68; E Els (S Afr) 69 73; R Gamez 70 72; G Sauers 73 69. 143 M Allen 74 69. 144 M Ozaki (Jap) 68 76; B Claar 68 76; J Mahaffey 71 73. 145 S Ballesteros (Sp) 74 71. 147 I Woosnam (GB) 73 74.