Slow torture for Els as Woods forges on

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The Independent Online

It was Jack Nicklaus at Pebble Beach, when Tiger Woods was only halfway towards his record-smashing 15-stroke victory in the US Open, who observed that the wind died as Woods walked on to the first tee, just as it always did for Ben Hogan. That fortune favours champions is not new and, for the third major championship in a row, Woods found himself on the right side of the draw at the 82nd USPGA Championship.

It was Jack Nicklaus at Pebble Beach, when Tiger Woods was only halfway towards his record-smashing 15-stroke victory in the US Open, who observed that the wind died as Woods walked on to the first tee, just as it always did for Ben Hogan. That fortune favours champions is not new and, for the third major championship in a row, Woods found himself on the right side of the draw at the 82nd USPGA Championship.

If there was little advantage at St Andrews, where Woods became the youngest golfer to complete a career Grand Slam, there was a substantial difference at Pebble Beach when fog delays caused havoc. When the leaderboard at Valhalla hardly changed throughout a long, hot afternoon on Thursday, it was clear that those who reached the clubhouse by lunchtime had benefited from playing before the heat index passed over the 100-degree mark and rounds took over six hours to complete.

Woods, at six under, shared the first-round lead with Scott Dunlap, an American whose successes have come outside the States in Canada and South Africa. Two strokes behind were Darren Clarke and Davis Love. An overnight storm, which deposited three inches of rain on the course and felled a tree on the 10th hole, made conditions much more pleasant for all the players yesterday.

There was a delay of an hour as the mopping-up operations continued and for the second day running a round could not be completed. But Thursday night's overspill, when 18 players were left on the course, was the first time anyone could remember a round not being completed when there had been no weather delay. "That has to be the longest round I have ever played in a major championship," said Tom Watson. Ernie Els, who shot 74 playing alongside Watson, said it was "ridiculous" to take over six hours. "I'm not criticising the PGA, but they might have to rethink playing this course," he said. "You put 150 players on a really tough course and try to finish in one day. You're not going to do that on this track."

As the course dried out in the afternoon, the officials sprayed the greens but they were still harder to hold than in the morning. They are small targets in any case and are vsurrounded by thick rough, making recoveries tricky. With all the par-fives reachable in two there were delays of 40 minutes on the second tee and over half-an-hour on the other par-fives.

The pace of play was even slower than at St Andrews, where double greens and double fairways are a problem. An England-West Indies Test match takes less time than it does to play two rounds in a major championship these days.

Yet, no one seems to have an answer to what is a constant problem at majors. "We have a pace of play policy which is certainly enforced," said Kerry Haigh, the tournament director. "A number of groups were timed but no one was penalised."

There is a simple reason for that. Players are only timed when they are out of position - when there is a hole clear to the group in front - and then they hit within the time limits. But when everyone is struggling, they can take forever without being out of position. Haigh added: "There are a number of factors in major championships where the golf courses are certainly more difficult than perhaps they are week-in, week-out. Major championship conditions affect players, no question."

Colin Montgomerie, who scored a 74, said his tee-time would be "hellish" and so it proved. The Scot complained of headaches and feeling dizzy on the course and needed to take some tablets on the 14th tee. "I always get headaches in the heat but I have not felt well for a month," Monty said. Though he would not admit it, his crash diet - he has lost 20 pounds in less than a month - may not help.

Among those who had to complete their rounds yesterday was Andrew Coltart. The young Scot grew up playing 18 holes in under two hours but took three and half hours to play nine holes on Thursday. Two under after 11 holes, he dropped four strokes in four holes before play was suspended. Yesterday, he played the last three in level par for a 74. "It's a bit disappointing as for 11 holes I did not put a foot wrong," Coltart said. "I was in complete control and then the proverbial wheels came off."

Both Thomas Bjorn and J P Hayes enjoyed the early conditions to be four under for their second rounds through 15 holes yesterday and move to four under and seven under.

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