Barclays shortened to 54 holes to avoid hurricane

An image provided by NOAA is an Aug. 26, 2011 view of Hurricane Irene made by the GOES-east satellite. The hurricane is projected to follow a path up the East Coast from North Carolina to Maine and into Canada.

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EDISON, N.J. – PGA Tour officials have thrown in the towel. Hurricane Irene wins.

Much to their pain, they have announced that the first FedEx Cup playoff tournament, The Barclays, has been reduced to 54 holes – with the possibility that it will be shortened to even 36. The reason: A ferocious hurricane roaring up the coast that is predicted to hit the New Jersey/New York area sometime Saturday.

“Kind of makes you want to cry,” said tournament director Peter Mele.

If you did, it would only be the start of the precipitation because forecasters are calling for upwards of 10-12 inches of rain to hit this area Saturday night and into Sunday.

That rules out playing Sunday and “no way Monday and it puts Tuesday out as well,” said Slugger White, the PGA Tour’s vice-president of rules and competition.

It goes against the PGA Tour’s commitment to all tournaments being played to 72 holes, but this is “extreme weather conditions,” White said, and the tournament sponsor did not disagree.

“We fully support the PGA Tour’s decision to shorten the tournament to 54 holes,” said Barclays CEO Bob Diamond. “For the safety of all involved this is the right call.”

Of course, some players questioned the timing of the announcement. It came at 12:30 p.m., when many of them were at least halfway through their second round. They looked up to see that the decision had been made and they only had a few holes left to Round 2. Meanwhile, half the field would play in the afternoon, having all 18 holes with such knowledge.

Unfair? Padraig Harrington, one of those who played his second round in the morning, did not think so.

“They told us early enough. I think they made the right decision,” the Irishman said after posting a 67 to get to 10 under, just four off the lead. “And that’s important – they made a decision. As players, we want clarity. We have it.”

To try and get in 18 holes Saturday, officials have pushed up the starting times. Those who make the cut will go off in threesomes off of two tees. But the forecast for Saturday morning calls for possible rain, which is expected to get heavier around 2 p.m. The meat of the hurricane isn’t supposed to hit the area until Saturday evening.

But if weather conditions preclude officials from getting in a full round Saturday morning, White said The Barclays would be reduced to 36 holes. In the past, 36-hole tournaments have never been considered official and White wasn’t able to say if that would be true in this case. But he did say that FedEx Cup points would be divided among the top 36-hole finishers and that’s how things would proceed with the top 100 in the standings advancing to next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship.

Though much of the focus is on the competition, Mele stressed how disappointed he is for Barclays, which has shown an enormous commitment to golf. Unfortunately, it’s been a bad stretch, because the bank sponsors a tournament in Singapore, which was forced into a Monday finish, and the Scottish Open, which was reduced to 54 holes.

Given that The Barclays has been reduced to a sprint, the spotlight falls on Matt Kuchar, whose bogey-free round of 6 under 65 pushed him to 14 under and ino the cubhouse lead. The defending champion has made just one bogey in 36 holes, but that hasn’t exactly afforded him breathing room. Dustin Johnson put up a sizzling 8 under 63, also going bogey-free, and is at 13 under.

No surprise, but both players support the decision to shorten to 54 holes.

“It has the potential to be pretty scary,” Kuchar said, “and I think all of us would strive to stay safe.”

Added Johnson: “Sometimes you’ve got to do that (shorten to 54). I would like to play all 72, but if we can get in 54, I think it will be a good week.”

Then again, for all the talk about 54 holes as opposed to 72 and how FedEx Cup points and millions of dollars are at stake, Harrington offers perspective.

“There are bigger things going on, once this hurricane hits, (than) to be worried about coming back for the last round of a golf event.”

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