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Weather wins Round 2

Bad weather
[Times photos: Kinfay Moroti]
Spectators leave the TPC of Tampa Bay after lightning in the area forced the delay of the second round. Sixteen players didn't finish the round.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

Wind batters the players before lightning forces an overnight delay.

LUTZ -- His pants fluttering in the wind, his hat about to blow away, Hale Irwin could barely stand still over putts Saturday at the TPC of Tampa Bay.

It was the kind of weather that makes most run for cover. Irwin wanted to run to the next tee.

It is in just these kind of conditions that Irwin excels. The Champions Tour's all-time victory leader was performing quite well during the second round of the Verizon Classic. While others were blown away, Irwin kept fighting through the wind, determined, until a severe weather warning halted play.

"I hated to hear that siren, especially the way I was hitting it," Irwin said. "I never like to hear that horn, but today especially. I would have really loved to keep going."

There was no rain when play was stopped at 2:40 p.m., but radar showed lightning in the area. The action was stopped, the spectators evacuated from the course.

With severe thunderstorms predicted, the second round eventually was halted for the day with 16 players on the course.

Bruce Fleisher
Leader Bruce Fleisher blasts out of the sand on 15, the last hole before play was halted.

Bruce Fleisher was the leader at 6 under par through 15 holes. He returns to attempt a 3-foot par putt this morning on the 16th hole. Irwin was a shot back at 5 under after hitting his tee shot at the 16th. First-round leader Mike McCullough, who opened the tournament with 67, was 2 over for the day through 15 holes and, at 2 under, was the only other player under par.

Wayne Levi shot 1-under 70 and was the leader in the clubhouse at even 142.

Weather permitting, the second round will resume at 8 a.m., with the final round to begin at approximately 9:30 a.m.

Predicted poor weather meant an earlier start Saturday, but that didn't prevent strong wind that gusted to 40 mph. And it made for quite an adventure on the course.

Of the 63 rounds completed, 11 were in the 80s, none in the 60s. Levi and Terry Dill had the lowest posted scores of 70. If Fleisher and Irwin can par in, they would be the only players to shoot in the 60s for the second round.

The partial stroke average for the second round of 76.099 was the highest at the Verizon Classic since the first day of the 1996 tournament (77.312), when temperatures dipped into the 40s. Every hole on the course had at least one player make double bogey or worse. The worst-score card for the course was 116 strokes.

"That tells you how difficult it was out there," Irwin said. "I think the hardest thing is putting. It's blowing you around. It's hard to stay steady. And as you well know, if you ground your putter while you're over the putt and the ball moves -- it doesn't matter if you made it move or the wind moves it -- you are deemed to have made it move.

"There were a number of instances where the ball is quivering down there. And I never did ground my club. It gets you off balance right away."

Levi knows. He had the round of the day until he ran into the wind on the back nine. A 12-time PGA Tour winner who turned 51 Saturday, Levi burst into the lead before playing the last five holes 5 over.

"It was tough," said Levi, who began the second round two hours before the leaders after an opening 72. "The wind on the front nine was blowing pretty decent, but not to where shots were getting away from you. ... By the back nine they were.

"Starting at (No.) 14, the wind was blowing so hard. It's all open there, and it was full blast, 600 yards coming right at you. By the time it gets to the tee, it's full force."

Levi, who was 6 under for the day at that point, hit his tee shot into the water and made double-bogey 7. He made another bogey at the 16th and hit his tee shot into the water at the 17th for another double.

And he didn't feel he had performed that poorly.

"Even a 2-foot putt is not a gimme, especially if the wind is blowing across," Levi said. "You could miss it so easy. Hit it a little off center and it'll slide right out. You could miss it from a foot. You can really look silly. If things go bad, start snowballing on the bad side, it's hard to regroup."

Fleisher, who won the 2000 tournament, made three birdies in a row starting at the 11th hole to vault into the lead. He was on his way to his 13th sub-par round out of 14 at the TPC of Tampa Bay.

"This golf course suits my game," he said. "It's just a course that looks good in my eye. I'm fortunate that I've been able to play it that well."

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