Harrison Frazar is leading The Barclays. All anyone wanted to talk about was Irene.
Whatever enthusiasm there was for start of the FedEx Cup playoffs was dampened Thursday — first by rain that halted the first round for nearly three hours, then from the gloomy forecast of Hurricane Irene. That left players and officials wonder when, how or even if they can finish the opening playoff event.
Of the early starters — who didn't finish until mid-afternoon — Frazar led an onslaught of birdies on rain-softened Plainfield Country Club, shooting a 7-under 64. One of the few times he was in trouble, he chipped in from behind the first green to turn bogey into birdie.
Vijay Singh overcame a double bogey early in his round for a 65 and was tied with Jonathan Byrd. Adam Scott was in the group at 66. Nick Watney, the No. 1 seed as the race begins for the $10 million US FedEx Cup bonus, was among those at 67.
When it was too dark to continue, 51 players did not finish the round. They were to return at 7:15 a.m. on Friday, and the tee times for the second round were expected to be pushed back by about 30 minutes.
William McGirt, the last of the 125 players who qualified for the playoffs, had to stop after making his seventh birdie in an eight-hole stretch to get to 7-under par through 11 holes. Matt Kuchar, the defending champion at The Barclays, also was at 7 under through 16 holes.
"I wanted to get done today," Frazar said. "With the way the weather is coming, I didn't want to have to sit around and play too much tomorrow or too much Saturday. It's going to be a long week by the time this thing is over."
Slugger White, the tour's vice-president of competition, was hopeful that everyone from the afternoon group could at least made the turn. That would give the tournament a chance to complete 36 holes by Friday, and if the expected wind and rain holds off long enough, get through the third round Saturday.
No one was sure what to expect after that, if anything at all. White ruled out a 36-hole Saturday.
The concern is that Plainfield about 10 inches of rain over the last few weeks and probably can't take much more.
"If we get five or seven inches of rain here, we are probably dead in the water," White said.
This is supposed to be the time the 125 players who qualified can start dreaming about golf's biggest payoff — $10 million to the winner after four playoff events in the next five weeks. Officials again painted "PGA TOUR PLAYOFFS" into the grass of one hill, much like is scene on midfield on a football game.
It's a wonder the paint didn't wash away.
Then again, the Deutsche Bank Championship last year braced for remnants of Hurricane Earl to possibly wash out big chunks of the tournament outside Boston, and it never materialized.
Bad weather is not unusual in golf, and the tour has a policy to only reduce events to 54 holes if there is no way to finish on Monday. But this is not an ordinary event. Only the top 100 players in the FedEx Cup standings after The Barclays advance to the second round.
What might help is that the next event, the Deutsche Bank, doesn't start until Friday because of its traditional Labor Day finish. Only PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has the authority to allow for a Tuesday finish if it comes to that.
"I don't think anybody has any clue," Charley Hoffman said after a 66. "I'm pretty sure 100 per cent of us want to play 72 holes out here, and we all know the tournament [next week] doesn't start until Friday. So I'm pretty sure the players will commit to go to Tuesday if possible. But if this place gets 10 inches of rain two weeks in a row, I don't know how playable this golf course is going to be on Tuesday."
There was so much talk about weather that Watney said he heard a rumour that Manhattan might be evacuated. Left unsaid was how he heard such a thing while being too preoccupied with his golf to check on any such reports.
He found it fascinating, nonetheless.
"That would be quite a sight of evacuating Manhattan," he said. "Where would they all go. That's like 12 million people."
Everyone else just kept plugging away, coping with a course that was starting to get firm and fun until they returned from a rain delay and tried to control how much the ball was spinning once it landed on the green.
The tournament was a sellout even before it began, and despite the weather, there was plenty of cheers. With the tees moved up on the 18th hole this week, making it play 285 yards up the hill, the lone eagle came from Troy Matteson, who pitched in from 35 years. Steven Bowditch hit his tee shot to within 5 feet, only to three-putt for a par.
Singh, who hit a beautiful approach into 6 feet on the tough 17th for birdie, drove to the front of the green on the 18th and chipped to 8 feet to close out his round of back-to-back birdies. That atoned for hitting into the water on the par-3 third.
Meanwhile, White said the tour won't decide how to proceed until they see the forecast on Friday.
"I really don't want to paint myself in a corner right now," he said. "There's a lot of scenarios out there."