High winds suspend play in Houston

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HUMBLE, Texas — The first round of the Shell Houston Open was suspended because of high wind Thursday with only half the 144-player field on the course. The round will resume Friday morning.

A morning thunderstorm postponed the start of the tournament by 2 1/2 hours. Play was then stopped at 12:50 p.m. because of wind that was strong enough to move balls on the slippery greens before players could mark them. The round was suspended for the day at 3 p.m. after wind gusts reached 50 mph.

“It was kind of a situation where we couldn’t conduct the competition properly this afternoon,” PGA Tour tournament director Mark Russell said.

Lee Westwood shot a 4-under 32 on the front nine to take a two-shot lead before the horns sounded across the course. Westwood made 18-foot birdie putts on the first two holes, then added a 45-footer on the par-3 ninth.

He was ready to hit a 15-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole when a tournament official warned him that play was about to be stopped.

“I said, ‘Oh, so I can putt it now while it’s unplayable, or come back in the morning, when there’s no wind on the greens,’ ” Westwood said. “Let me think about that.”

The National Weather Service measured sustained wind of 25 mph with gusts up to 40 mph on Thursday morning. The service issued a wind advisory in the area to remain in effect until 7 p.m.

The wind delay was the first on the PGA Tour since the final round of the 2007 Verizon Heritage Classic at Hilton Head was suspended until Monday.

“You don’t often get weather delays without a cloud in the sky, that’s for sure,” Westwood said.

The Houston event drew a star-studded field, with 15 of the top 20 players in the world rankings here to hone their games before next week’s Masters. Organizers have tried to set up the Tournament Course at Redstone with conditions simulating Augusta — fast greens and light rough.

Westwood said the speed of the greens contributed to the stoppage.

“That’s been the problem, really, the pace of the greens,” he said. “Once the wind started blowing as strongly as it did, there was no way the ball could stand still.”

Westwood held a two-shot lead over a pack of eight players at 2 under.

Big-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros didn’t cope with the wind quite so well, ballooning to 9 over through 12 holes before the delay. Playing in the first group of the day, Quiros hit only three fairways with his first seven tee shots and drove into the water on the par-4 11th for a double bogey.

Phil Mickelson also struggled, shooting 3 over through eight holes. Greg Norman, making a rare appearance on the regular tour, hit an approach to about 6 feet on the par-4 18th, but as he walked up to the green, the wind blew the ball to the fringe, about nine feet away from the hole. Norman was even-par through eight holes.

“You know, I know they probably should’ve known the weather conditions were going to come in,” Norman said. “I’ve been in this situation before, where we had to halt play. It’s not an anomaly. It’s just one of those things where we’ll go back.”

Rory McIlroy, Geoff Ogilvy, Anthony Kim and Vijay Singh were among the players who did not tee off Thursday.

With a favorable weekend forecast, tournament officials were optimistic about finishing the event Sunday. But Russell didn’t expect to complete the third round Sunday morning.

“We don’t need any more interruptions,” Russell said. “It’s going to be kind of crazy. We’re going to have to start at daylight and play till dark.”

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