Tour ready to interrupt play for Stewart service

A Memorial service for the life of Payne Stewart, who died on Monday when his private jet depressurised and later crashed, will be held on Friday in Orlando. Yesterday a wreath was laid by, and a blue ribbon tied to, the nameplate of his parking place at the Champions Club in Houston, where the 42-year-old Stewart was due to play in tomorrow's US Tour Championship. Flags were flying at half-mast.

A Memorial service for the life of Payne Stewart, who died on Monday when his private jet depressurised and later crashed, will be held on Friday in Orlando. Yesterday a wreath was laid by, and a blue ribbon tied to, the nameplate of his parking place at the Champions Club in Houston, where the 42-year-old Stewart was due to play in tomorrow's US Tour Championship. Flags were flying at half-mast.

Whether the event, for the leading 30 money-winners on the US Tour this season, would be interrupted to allow players to attend was still being decided by the PGA Tour last night. No additional player will be added to the starting line-up.

Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara, who live on the same Isleworth estate in Orlando, were among those comforting Stewart's widow, Tracey, and their two children. "I can't even comprehend the scope of it," Woods, the world No 1, said of his friend's death. "None of us can right now. There is an enormous void and emptiness I feel right now."

As well as the two pilots of the Learjet, the other two passengers on the plane that set off from Orlando for Dallas were Robert Fraley, chief executive of the management firm that represented Stewart, Leader Enterprises, and Van Ardan, the company's president. As the golfing community tried to come to terms with the loss of the world No 8 player, all that is certain is that next year's US Open will have no defending champion.

Tim Finchem, the US Tour commissioner, said: "Payne was a great champion, a gentleman and a devoted husband and father. He will always be remembered as a very special competitor, and one who contributed enormously to the positive image of professional golf."

Players gathering here for tomorrow's Volvo Masters at Montecastillo will today decide how to mark Stewart's death. Options include wearing black ribbons, a minute's silence and flying flags at half-mast.

Colin Montgomerie, the Europe No 1, arrived yesterday in a Learjet from La Manga. "I have always respected Payne for his golfing ability and no one will ever forget the courageous way in which he won all three of his majors," Montgomerie said. "Above all, I respected his approach to the game and none more so than at Brookline." Stewart conceded his Ryder Cup singles match to Montgomerie on the 18th green and helped to have the Scot's hecklers thrown out of the gallery.

"In those extraordinary circumstances, it takes a big man to stand up and be counted and Payne Stewart was certainly that, and I shall always be grateful to him for his support. After the match, he went to my wife, Eimear, and hugged and kissed her. He said: 'I'm very sorry. That should not have happened.' When Eimear told me that, I thought it was a very nice thing to have done."

Like Nick Faldo, Montgomerie often hires private jets to cope with a worldwide schedule while those who own planes include Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Ian Woosnam. Arnold Palmer, at the age of 70, still flies himself. "Our job is global," Montgomerie said, "and flying is still the safest form of travel, even though I have never liked it after suffering turbulence on a family holiday to Ibiza."

The Scot added: "I am shocked and stunned. It is going to be difficult to concentrate this week. Payne was more than just a wonderful golfer, he was a charming and fun man and a colourful and influential sporting figure, recognisable and admired the world over."

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