Memories of hail-lashed days in the West of Ireland championship came flooding back for Ireland’s quartet of stars as snowfall forced the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Arizona to be suspended.
Just 22 of the 32 matches got underway and none were finished when play was suspended at 11.07 am local time as snow began to fall.
“The weather is officially ridiculous!” McIlroy tweeted from the safety of the clubhouse, where he remained alongside his first round rival Shane Lowry.
“I think we might need a few of those yellow Srixon balls,” Lowry said, clearly disappointed that he will have to wait until today for his Accenture Match Play debut.
The snow turned Dove Mountain into a Christmas card scene within minutes with caddies staging snowball fights outside the clubhouse as the players huddled inside around roaring fires.
Carl Pettersson, one of the more rotund players on tour, joked: “This is one of the few times it is an advantage to be fat.”
Officials waited until 1 o’clock in the hopes that the sun might emerge and prompt a quick thaw but with the course under two inches of snow, they decided instead to call off play for the day.
“I don’t think we will have any problem at all, if the weather remains nice, finishing Sunday on time,” said tournament director Mark Russell. “… We have a lot more leeway in this situation (64 players) than we would have in a 144-man or 156-man strokeplay competition.”
Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell were the only Irish players to make it out onto the course for their first round clash.
“You guys must be crazy,” McDowell told fans shivering in the stand at the first tee. “Don’t you know this is on TV?”
McDowell could only recall playing once in the ‘West’ - “I was always away at college but that’s the last time I remember it being as bad as this.”
The Irish duo started their game with sleet blasting them in the face, powering drives just 260 yards down the middle on a hole where Ian Poulter had hit one 324 yards through the fairway just three hours earlier.
Both came up short of the green in two but with McDowell pitching 25 feet beyond the flag, Harrington looked like the favourite to go one up after chipping to just four feet before the hooters sounded.
“I remember many, many a day at Rosses Point like this,” Harrington said back the clubhouse. “Worse to be honest. Hailstones is worse. This is only snow. It was called today exactly when it should have been called. They waited as long as they could and called it as soon as they should have. There was no issue.
“Back in the amateur days it just took longer for the information to travel back from the ninth to the clubhouse. It’s not like they had the weather forecasts they have now.
“No doubt we played some amateur tournaments from the back of the back tees on windy days which we wouldn’t do now as pros. I remember playing the sixth in Portmarnock 600 yards into the wind off the back stakes.
“I’ve only played one hole but we were of the front of the back tee and I’d imagine there are forward tees further out the course.
“In the ‘West’ the worst thing was the hailstones and like here, you could see it coming. They were always tough days in the West.”
As Harrington headed off for treatment for a stiff neck - “To be honest, my neck has been great for years, it’s not an issue” - Lowry and McIlroy were side by side recalling their amateur days.
“It’s awful, isn’t it,” said Lowry, who was visibly disappointed not to get going. “I was really looking forward to getting out there but this is the worst I’ve ever seen at a golf tournament.
“It’s been bad a couple of times in the West, but that was mainly the wind. I remember one year it was about minus five at Rosses Point one year with the wind chill factor but I never saw snow!”
McIlroy recalled shooting 86 in the 2003 Connacht Youth at Connemara, where he took a 10 on the last as hailstones lashed his face
“It was nothing as bad as this. But I do I remember standing on the 18th tee box there and I swear I felt tears rolling down my cheeks. It was just horrendous. But there’s nothing you can do with this stuff.
“I’ve been near the snow a few times though recently. I was in Aspen and the French Alps so I’m glad I learned to ski, I might have to do it this week.”
Later McIlroy said: “There wasn’t much else they could do to be honest. I have never seen anything like that at golf tournament. I’ve seen snow on the course when I was a kid, but nothing like that on any of the Tours. It was crazy. But at least they have called it early enough to let everyone get out of here and get warm again. We just head off now and get ready to come back and have another go tomorrow.
“The way this tournament works means we lose so many players every day that they will have loads of time to make it up. That depends on the weather of course but it looks like it is going to get a bit better from tomorrow so we will come back and have another go. I think they definitely made the right decision to call it for the day.”
Of the 21 matches that got undeway, most went to form with the big surprise coming from Jason Day, who was six up on Zach Johnson through 10 holes.
Matchplay specialist Poulter was three up on Stephen Gallacher through 12 holes but it was more of a struggle for the in-form South African Charl Schwartzel, who came back from two down at the turn to square the match by the 11th.
Sergio Garcia was two up with three to play against Thongchai Jaidee in the opening match while Justin Rose was two up on K.J. Choi through nine holes with Lee Westwood also two up on Rafael Cabrera-Bello through five.