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Crane Leads Weather-Delayed First Round of St. Jude Classic
The first round of the $5.8 million FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis endured a three-hour-and-30-minute delay caused by bad weather.
While beautiful days preceded the start of the tournament, heavy rain, high winds and lightning struck the Memphis area Thursday afternoon, forcing the players off the course for an extended stretch that may throw a wrench in the event's schedule.
Wind gusts up to 60 mph knocked over railings and some signage. The weather was so bad that the course was closed to spectators and "non-essential" volunteers, and the only people allowed were players, caddies and tournament officials.
More rain and lightning are forecast on Friday, while the weekend outlook - despite temperatures in the high-80s - calls for scattered thunderstorms and rain.
PGA Tour officials are hoping to get the St. Jude Classic back on track by the end of Friday. But if Mother Nature doesn't cooperate there could be a Monday finish, an undesirable situation for players heading to the upcoming U.S. Open in North Carolina. The year's second major gets underway in a week at Pinehurst No. 2.
At the end of the day, Ben Crane held the lead after firing a 7-under 63 on the par-70 TPC Southwind course. The Portland, Ore., native posted seven birdies in a flawless outing.
Crane was pleased with posting his low round of the year. "I've changed my game so much this year and it's been a struggle this year," said the four-time Tour winner. "To get a good round under my belt, feels amazing, feels like I'm doing a lot of the right things and today was one of those days where I got a couple birdies early and then I made a couple key par saves to keep the round going and kind of freed up and holed a couple."
Before Crane took over the top spot on the leaderboard late Thursday afternoon, 26-year-old Tour rookie Peter Malnati led with a 5-under 65. Billy Horschel was also at 5-under but left the course due to darkness after completing only 16 holes.
Malnati told reporters he came into the week with a new mental approach. "Just in the last couple of weeks I've kind of gotten it turned around," he said. "I kept telling my wife I'm going to be wandering around in there. I was fine. I was thinking heck, I was actually thinking good thoughts, which is really nice because it's been not the greatest year but to come out of it and I expected to come out of and play well. It was really good."
Beginning play on the 10th tee, Malnati, a former University of Missouri player and Tennessee resident, carded four birdies - including three straight on his fifth through seventh holes (Nos. 14-16) and a bogey on the eighth (the 17th). He tacked two more birdies on his back nine.
South Africa's Retief Goosen and American Joe Durant finished with 66s.
Though the course received rainfall, Goosen said the extra moisture didn't affect the putting surfaces. "The greens are as good as greens as you can get," said the 45-year-old two-time U.S. Open champion. "The greens are rolling close to 13 on the Stimpmeter. They are really good. You hit the right putt, they are going to go in."
Completing 67s were Sweden's Freddie Jacobson and Americans Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Troy Merritt and Hudson Swafford.
Mickelson, a five-time major winner who has yet to win a U.S. Open during his Hall of Fame career, was happy with his play. "I did exactly what I need to do (to get) some momentum that I need heading into the U.S. Open," Mickelson said. "Tomorrow's round, the same thing. Finish strong and play a good round."
Finishing their first rounds with 68s were Ireland's Padraig Harrington, Canada's David Hearn, Colombia's Camilo Villegas, Argentina's Miguel Angel Carballo, and Americans Scott Stallings, Dustin Johnson, Woody Austin and Ted Potter, Jr.
Because of the lengthy weather delay, those who had late tee times will have to conclude them before the start of Friday's second round.
Robert Garrigus withdrew from the tournament after hurting his wrist on the 18th hole. The one-time Tour winner was able to complete a 9-over 79 before pulling out.
For updated scores, visit http://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html.
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