Bethpage Black looked less like a world-famous public course and more like the local public baths when the first day of the 109th US Open was all but washed out. A sustained deluge saw the players called back to the clubhouse after a little over three hours' play. A Monday finish now seems inevitable, although with the forecasters promising more of the same in the forthcoming days do not discount a Tuesday climax. Anything seems possible after yesterday when the game's toughest major was in danger of floating off into the farcical.
Indeed, as Tiger Woods directed green staff with squeegees to remove the puddle which separated his ball from the hole on the second green, many were of the opinion that the year's toughest major was based on an original Brian Rix production. But while it verged on the comical (for all but the fans, of course) what action there was happened to be dramatic.
Woods, as ever, was the central character, playing his first six holes in a far from disastrous one-over (a group on one-under are setting the pace) but did so in a typical frenzy of calamity and excellence. The world No 1 came into the event chasing his 15th major and seemingly nearing his best again after a victory at the Memorial event two weeks ago.
At Jack Nicklaus's tournament, Woods suddenly rediscovered the driver after misfiring since his return from an eight-month absence resulting from knee surgery. The word was that if Woods hit the fairways here there would be only winner and, seeing as he teed it up on the first hole yesterday morning having hit 14 of the last 14 fairways he had aimed for, those predictions were indeed ominous.
As it turned out, Woods missed the first fairway by fully 60 yards, his right hand flying off the grip as he pulled it quite spectacularly. Woods looked around with utter incredulity, although in truth this was not the first time it had happened. Far from it. At the Masters his first shot on the final day missed not only the first fairway, but the adjoining ninth as well. Then there was the wild hook on the opening hole of the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club, which found the water 50 yards off line. Woods has the propensity for starting golf tournaments like Jean van de Velde ends them.
The difference is, of course, that Woods has time to rectify the error and the talent to do so immediately. Somehow Woods cajoled his approach shot from the cabbage into a greenside bunker, splashed out to six feet and holed the putt. A regulation par. However, the 33-year-old's magic was not able to save him on the par-four fifth when another wayward drive led to a double-bogey six. He inevitably followed this with a 20-footer for a birdie three. So Woods could retire to the packed and steamy locker room in the knowledge that his adventures had been anything but ruinous.
Many others could not boast the same and the British challenge proved how difficult conditions were on a par-70 layout measuring more than 7,400 yards but playing much, much longer. Seven of the nine-strong English contingent began their rounds and between them they have played a collective 47 holes and are 26 over par. Luke Donald is five-over through five holes, while for Ireland, Padraig Harrington, the triple major winner, is four over through six. But although this was demoralising enough their depression is nothing compared to the US Open debutant David Horsey. The European Tour rookie from Cheshire was 10-over for his 10 holes and in last place, having suffered two treble-bogeys (on the first and the sixth).
Fortunately, there are a few English representatives near the top of the leader board. Paul Casey is on the same mark as Woods after five holes, while Ian Poulter is faring best of all, at level par for the seven holes he has completed. "What a shame about the rain," he said. "I wanted to stay out there, I was playing great. I've got a four-footer for par on the eighth. The ball just stopped in a puddle."
There are two ways to react when the grips are slipping, the waterproofs squelching and when the nose is drip, drip, dripping on to the ball between your feet – sink or swim, cry or laugh it off. Poulter did the latter. Take the message to his 50,000 followers on Twitter on opening his curtains yesterday. "Went out for a sushi with Justin Rose last night. Thought sushi was apt as we're gonna feel like fish today." Poulter was not stopping there. "Solved the problem. I'm gonna wear the shower cap from my hotel bathroom – it's see-through. I just need to write Cobra all over it." Then when he was drying off in the clubhouse, Poulter wrote: "It's official, I feel like a fish. That got pretty funny out there – in a sick kind of way. The course is underwater and you can't pick and place."
Poulter was not alone in wondering about the USGA's stubborn insistence not to invoke the lift, clean and place rule on the sodden fairways. "We are going to have to deal with not only a very tough golf course but also some of the decisions that are being made like not being able to lift, clean and place," Casey said. "That's going to be very difficult and you are going to have to expect some difficult lies and some mud-balls. It does make it a bit of a lottery, but hey – it all adds to the fun."
Play was officially suspended for the day at 1.55pm (6.55pm BST). First-round play was scheduled to resume at 7.30am (12.30pm BST) today.
(US unless stated)
J Brehaut (after 11 holes)
J Edfors (Swe) (4)
A Parr (Eng) (3)
R Spears (3)
J Leonard (7)
I Poulter (GB) (7)
A Cabrera (Arg) (6)
B Watson (4)
S Farren (3)
M Miles (3)
C Tringale (3)
B Van Pelt (11); C Wittenberg (11); R Imada (Japan) (9); M Kaymer (Ger) (9); K J Choi (S Kor) (8); V Singh (Fiji) (8); G McDowell (GB) (7); M Sim (Aus) (7); H Stenson (Swe) (6); S Stricker (6); G Ogilvy (Aus) (5); J Furyk (5); P Casey (GB) (5); T Woods (6); R Moore (6); B Crane (6); A Romero (Arg) (4); M Campbell (4); J Merrick (4); K Duke (3); F Molinari (4); C Bowden (3); C Kirk (3); B Martin (2); J Mccumber (2); K Silva (2); V Snyder (3); T Murphy (2); N Tyler (2).
2 over M Jimenez (Sp) (4); Z Johnson (5); L Westwood (GB) (5)
4 over P Harrington (Irl)
5 over C Campbell; L Donald (GB)
10 over D Horsey (GB)
Howell tees up 'quickie' marriage
Marriage, so they say, should not be entered into lightly. Clearly no one told David Howell. The English golfer revealed on his blog yesterday how he recently decided to get hitched in the morning – and tied the knot before lunch. "It takes two hours to arrange a wedding," he writes, "if you have the registry office booked and a girl crazy enough to go along with it."
After getting the go-ahead from fiancée Emily (who, until recently, worked at Buckingham Palace as PA to the Queen's private secretary), he then organised a maid of honour, flowers, a new shirt and tie and a photographer. After the wedding and a quick lunch ("ham and cheese toastie with an egg on top"), an equally rapidly arranged party for 40 friends at a Weybridge pub – menu: fish and chips and a battered sausage as "it's a special day" – went with a swing, he writes, thanks to a musician he met on the way to the chippie whose gig had been cancelled. "She is a special girl, it was a special day and I am one lucky guy."