- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. | Gentlemen, bail away.

The first round of the 109th U.S. Open was a virtual washout Thursday at Bethpage State Park, dousing Tiger Woods (1 over through six holes) and the rest of the early starters before play was suspended at 10:16 a.m. and eventually postponed for the day.

First-round play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. Friday. The second wave of first-round players, none of whom struck a shot Thursday, is scheduled for a 10 a.m. opening-round start. The USGA hopes to begin second-round play at 4 p.m. or shortly thereafter.

A steady rain arrived at dawn and intensified around 10 a.m. Thursday, swamping the greens on the Black course and washing golf’s version of driftwood to the top of the early Open leader board. The only one of four players at 1 under to have completed nine holes or more, 46-year-old journeyman Jeff Brehaut overwhelmed a lone bogey with birdies at Nos. 13 and 17 to claim the clubhouse lead through 11 holes.

“Through the first 10 holes it was wet, but the course was holding up pretty well,” said Brehaut, who’s competing in just his second major. “But when we got to the second green, my 11th hole, we all looked at each other and said, ‘It can’t handle it anymore.’ They were squeegeeing [the water off the green], and it was coming straight back up. J.P. Hayes had a 45-footer. They squeegeed it away, and he putted it - and it rooster-tailed and came up 15 feet short.”

When the horn sounded moments later, most of the greens had become home to small ponds, and rain had turned the low-lying 18th fairway into Lake Bethpage.

“Believe it or not, as much rain as this course has taken, it drains beautifully with really the exception of that area [in the 18th] fairway,” said Jim Hyler, USGA vice president of competitions. “But the volume of rain falling was simply outpacing our ability to squeegee the greens.”

Given his erratic start, Woods likely was thankful for the stoppage. Playing like a man who had swapped his woods for an oar, a squeegee and an umbrella, the 33-year-old yanked his opening drive left of the merchandise tent separating the first and 18th holes, then fouled another drive dead right at the No. 5.

He pulled his customary Houdini routine at No. 1, escaping with an up-and-down par. But he couldn’t duplicate the feat at the fifth, where he gouged out of the rough, dumped his third shot short into a greenside bunker and left the hole steaming after a double bogey. Woods rebounded with a 20-foot birdie at No. 6 to claw back to 1 over. He faces a testy 6-footer for par at the seventh hole when play resumes.

“It was pretty tough out there. There was a lot of standing water,” said Woods, in search of his 15th major title and a rare back-to-back U.S. Open double. “[Friday] could be the same thing.”

Though Friday is expected to be a playable if gloomy day, the forecast for the weekend and beyond is dreadful. More nasty weather is expected with few pauses from Saturday through Tuesday, making the scheduled Sunday night finish a practical fantasy. If the weather cooperates perfectly, the USGA would like to complete second-round play by dusk Saturday and attempt a 36-hole, post-cut finale Sunday.

More than likely, the event is headed for a Monday or Tuesday finish because the USGA refuses to consider shortening the event to 54 holes.

“We will not determine a national champion until we play 72 holes,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s senior director of rules and competition. “If that takes us into Monday, Tuesday, whatever… I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but we will play 72 holes.”

In the meantime, Brehaut, who needed 13 cracks at Q-School before finally earning his PGA Tour card at 35 in 1999, can say he led a major after the first day. Though the Los Altos, Calif., resident has just one top-three finish in 227 starts on the PGA Tour, he did tie for 17th in his only previous major appearance, the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

“This is a bit overwhelming,” said Brehaut, who needed some version of a fairway wood or hybrid for five of his nine approach shots. “There’s a long way to go, but to be here right now is pretty cool.”

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