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Hunter Mahan leads weather hit first round

Hunter Mahan raced to 7-under par and the early lead as Thursday’s opening day of the Cadillac Championship was curtailed by powerful winds that toppled television towers and Doral’s giant scoreboard.

Mahan birdied his opening four holes and kept right on rolling until the storm-delayed opening round was suspended by darkness. He didn’t miss a green or come close to a bogey in 11 holes.

Mahan, the only American winner in the last five World Golf Championships, didn’t get much attention in a tournament that tried to drum up some drama by grouping players by their world ranking.

The biggest crowd belonged to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in a rare weekday pairing, with Graeme McDowell along for the ride. They scrapped their way around Doral without challenging the leaders—Mickelson at 2 under, with Woods and McDowell another shot back through 15 holes.

The top three players did a better job living up to their billing.

Martin Kaymer, in his second week as the new No. 1, opened with three straight birdies and was at 5 under through 10 holes. Match Play winner Luke Donald (No. 3) joined him with a birdie on the 10th hole, while Lee Westwood (No. 2) was another shot behind.

Mahan went out in 30 on the back nine, which included birdie putts of 35 and 40 feet.

At 7 under, he was two shots clear of Charley Hoffman, who had a 5-under 67 and was among nine players in the 66-man field who were able to finish the round.

Among those at 5 under with still more golf to play in the first round were 19-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan and 48-year-old Vijay Singh, who only got into this tournament last week. Nick Watney and Matt Kuchar also were at 5 under.

“I guess with that storm, it brought tranquility to the golf course,” Mahan said.

It was chaotic for an hour. Woods and Mickelson were on their way to the 10th tee to start the round when dark clouds gathered and the siren sounded to stop play. Players on the course were brought into the clubhouse, and that’s when the action began.

Gusts that reached 83 kph (52 mph) knocked down the large, manual scoreboard — a traditional fixture at Doral beyond the lake to the left of the 18th green— and left it in pieces. A stationary camera in a TV tower behind the ninth green captured video of another TV tower behind the eighth green crashing down into a bunker. The tower where it was stationed was blown over backward into a pond, with the camera going to the bottom. Divers had to retrieve it.

No one was injured, and while 17 newly planted palm trees were uprooted, the course was fine.

For Mahan and so many others, it was better than that.

“The course is in perfect shape,” Mahan said. “Good players and a good golf course and benign conditions, you’re going to have some good scores.”

But the largest gallery sure didn’t see great golf.

Woods missed five birdie putts inside 15 feet on his front nine as he made the turn in 37, and didn’t look as if he was making much progress. On the par-5 12th, he snap-hooked a tee shot so badly it nearly went into a water hazard that not many people even knew existed. Even so, he kept himself out of big trouble, and finally got into the game with a pair of birdies before play was suspended.

Mickelson started out sharply, with a massive tee shot on the 12th that led to his second birdie. He struggled to maintain the momentum, however, and had to make a late birdie to stay one shot clear of Woods.

“We didn’t play our best, but we didn’t play terrible,” Mickelson said. “We’re in good position tomorrow to come back out, finish the round strong and play our second round.”

D.A. Points shot a 68. Thomas Bjorn, who beat Woods in the first round of Match Play, finished off a 71.

Rory Sabbatini was in the mood to celebrate despite opening with a 74. He was so desperate to finish his round that he ran up to the eighth green to putt out while his playing partners remained in the fairway. Then he raced to the ninth tee, and as the group ahead was walking to the par-3 green, Sabbatini hit his tee shot.

The horn sounded to stop play a few minutes later. When play is suspended by darkness, players have the option to finish the hole. Because Sabbatini already had teed off on the ninth, the rest of the group was able to finish the round.

Scores

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