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Snow delays PGA tournament in Marana

World Golf Championships moved from Calif. to Az largely to avoid bad weather

Brrrrrr.

A rare southern Arizona blizzard warning became reality at the Accenture Match Play Championship on Wednesday, when flurries became a heavy snowfall at mid-morning in Marana. PGA officials called it a day just before 11 a.m. in the World Golf Championships event at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain, leaving 11 of 32 first-round matches to start Thursday morning and the rest to pick up where they left off.

It's the third year a weather delay halted the tournament here. In 2007, play was delayed on Saturday and Sunday because of frost. In 2010, play was suspended for 20 minutes on Saturday because of strong wind and heavy rain, and in 2011 frost delayed the first day of play and hail caused a brief halt on Sunday. But heavy snow was something new.

Last year's champion, Hunter Mahan, got up Wednesday morning expecting trouble, but maybe not quite this much. He was leading his match against Italian Matteo Manassero 4-up when officials declared the course unplayable.

“ I mean, we knew this was coming, so I think we were all somewhat prepared for the cold and everything,” Mahan said. “But I think we also didn't think we were actually high enough to get really snow and get this amount.”

By 1 p.m., the snow had stopped, leaving a serene 2-inch blanket of rapidly melting snow across the Dove Mountain course. Fans bolted for the exits, and players bolted for shelter. Rory McIlroy, who on Tuesday commented that weather conditions could favor northern European golfers used to wind and rain, was astounded. Play was halted about an hour before the Northern Irishman was to get off the first tee against countryman Shane Lowry.

“I have never seen anything like that at golf tournament,” McIlroy said. “I’ve seen snow on the course when I was a kid, but nothing like that on any of the Tours. It was crazy.”

It's unlikely the delay will push the tournament beyond Sunday, since only a handful of matches are scheduled for each weekend day. Quarter-final matches set for Friday could easily be played on the weekend, if need be.

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Justin Rose of England ended the day 2-up against K.J. Choi of Korea. He planned to start Thursday as if it were a new day. And he will be paying attention to the weather forecast, which was for significant snow above 2,500 feet – the elevation of the golf course.

“It's been amazing how accurate the forecast has been,” Rose said Wednesday after heading for the clubhouse. “They've been talking about snow for about four days, and pretty much at 11 o'clock, the forecast time, boom, it was down and end of the day.”

Fans with Wednesday tickets got a bonus after play was canceled: Their tickets will be good for Sunday admission. Play was set to resume at 8:30 a.m. Thursday with remaining first-round matches. Second round matches were expected to start at mid-afternoon.

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B. Poole/TucsonSentinel.com

The ninth fairway was a snowy expanse of nothingness by 1 p.m.