DORAL, Fla. — A storm packing 50 mph gusts toppled two TV towers, uprooted 17 young palm trees and sent the monster scoreboard at the 18th hole crashing to the ground Thursday at Doral.
When the Cadillac Championship resumed, Hunter Mahan and most of the world’s best players tore up the golf course.
The raging wind was replaced by an eerie calm that lasted just long enough to take aim at the Blue Monster. Mahan birdied his opening four holes and kept right on rolling until the opening round was suspended by darkness.
He didn’t miss a green, didn’t come close to a bogey in his 11 holes and was atop the leaderboard at 7-under par.
“I guess with that storm, it brought some tranquility to the golf course,” Mahan said. “Because there was just no wind. There was nothing out there.”
There were plenty of low scores — but not from Tiger Woods.
In the group that generated most of the buzz and attracted the largest crowd, Woods and Phil Mickelson scrapped their way around Doral, while U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell kept up with his great short game.
Mickelson made a birdie late in his round and was at 2 under through 15 holes, one shot ahead of Woods and McDowell.
The other featured group — the top three players in the world ranking — lived up to their billing. Martin Kaymer, in his second week as the new No. 1, opened with three straight birdies and was 5 under through 10 holes. Match Play winner Luke Donald (No. 3) birdied the 10th hole to join him at 5 under, while Lee Westwood (No. 2) was at 4 under.
“I had a fantastic start,” Kaymer said. “But to be honest, it was not that difficult today. You can see the scores. A bunch of people are under par, so it doesn’t seem that difficult.”
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.
For about an hour, it was pure chaos.
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 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.
Moments later, the camera went from showing green grass to a gray sky and then went blank. 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 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 he sure 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.