From Brian Keogh in Houston

Masters hopefuls Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson suffered an early “blow” as high winds stopped play at the Shell Houston Open.

Harrington raced to two under par after just three holes of his Augusta warm-up before winds gusting up to 45 mph saw him slip four shots behind early leader Lee Westwood before play was suspended at wind-lashed Redstone.

It was an even more frustrating start for left-hander Mickelson, who was three-over par and seven shots behind red-hot Westwood, who was four under par through the turn when play was suspended.

Tour officials eventually decided to abandon play for the day with the second round set to resume at 8am local time on Friday.

The start of the last event before the Masters had already been delayed by more than two hours by heavy rain.

But it was the wind that eventually forced officials to call the players off the course as former World No 1 Greg Norman saw his ball blown 20 yards down the 18th green.

Level par after eight holes, the Aussie veteran hit a fairway bunker shot to the back of the green but by the time he had walked up to the putting surface, the wind had blown his ball back to just nine feet.

Perhaps the Great White Shark's luck is changing as the prepares to return to Augusta after a seven-year absence.

But there wasn't much luck for Harrington as the wind blew him away in the early stages of his bid for a confidence-boosting victory ahead of next week’s major test at Augusta.

The greens have been shaved to match Augusta speeds but that policy back-fired as the wind whipped up and blew Harrington off course.

The Irish ace was in superb form early on as he raced up the leaderboard with birdies at the second and third.

Starting on the back nine, he rolled home his first birdie of the day at the 11th, where he rifled a towering six-iron to just 19 feet.

After using the three-wood off the first two tees, Harrington then unleashed the driver and went for the green at the 335-yard 12th.

And while he came up 20 yards short of the green, he played a superbly judged chip that dribbled down a tier to just three feet.

After rolling home the putt to get to two-under par, Harrington saw a branch snapped off a tree at par-five 13th but holed a testing four footer for his par after a bunkered tee shot stopped him going for the green in two.

But the wind just got stronger and he bogeyed the 15th and 16th to slip back to a share of 17th when play was stopped.

After blasting his drive through the fairway at the 15th, he punched his way back into play and hit a glorious 140-yard wedge to 12 feet before knocking his birdie putt six feet past and missing the return.

He then dropped another stroke at the 197-yard 16th as the wind howled across the more exposed part of the course.

Bunkered on the right, he splashed out to seven feet but was forced to back off his par putt three times before missing on the right.

Harrington will resume play on Friday with a good chance of getting back into the mix.

At the 452 yard 17th, he rode the wind screaming in from the left and has no more than a five footer for a birdie.

Reflecting on his bogey at the 16th, he said: "It was a left edge putt but I hit it straight and the wind blew it six inches to the right. It is frustrating. It's not as if level par is a disaster but I was two under par and it was frustrating to give those two shots back so easily."

Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy did not get to start and face a long day at the course on Friday.