Snow throws golfers for a loop

MARANA, Ariz. -- Branden Grace, a 24-year-old South African, arrived at WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain on Wednesday morning excited about his first-round match with Robert Garrigus.

Grace was making his first appearance in the event after winning five worldwide titles in 2012. But about a half hour before his 11:35 a.m. MT tee time, his start was put on hold as snow halted play in the desert.

As most players retreated to the locker room to dry off, Grace ventured outdoors to make a phone call. That's when he felt the pelt of a snowball on his back. And for the next few minutes, he engaged in a spirited snowball fight with a bored caddie.

When play was officially called for the day at 3:05 p.m. ET, all Grace could do was look toward Thursday, where there will be no snow but temperatures in the mid-30s in the morning and 50s in the afternoon. First-round play will resume on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. ET, with the second round to start mid-day.

The Grace-Garrigus pairing was one of nine matches out of 32 that didn't start on Wednesday, including the Tiger Woods-Charles Howell III group.

But two early matches look near completion. Jason Day is 6 up over Zach Johnson thru 10 holes and Bo Van Pelt is 5 up over John Senden after 12 holes.

Day, who had four birdies on Wednesday, was amused like many of the players with the snow.

"I've never actually played golf to the point where we've been stopped for snow, which is kind of crazy," Day said. "A little crazy for it to snow in the desert, as well."

The Van Pelt-Senden match was the third group out in the morning. When play was stopped, Van Pelt was 5 up in the match in the 13th fairway.

"It was cold but it wasn't too windy when we started," Van Pelt said. "There were some tough conditions on the front nine, but it was definitely playable. The fairways were firm and the ball was carrying with the crosswinds. It started raining when we were finishing up 11. The rain was coming down sideways.

"The next thing you know it started sleeting and then the snow came."

Van Pelt always does a short gym workout before he plays to activate his body. So he was comfortable in the cold weather.

"The key is to mentally prepare yourself for the fact that it's going be tough," said Van Pelt, the sixth seed in the Sam Snead bracket.

The 37-year-old former Oklahoma State graduate credits new technology in golf apparel that keeps the players properly insulated and at the same time doesn't restrict their swing like the old bulky turtlenecks and sweaters of his youth.

"As the clothes have gotten better, it's made it a lot easier to play in bad weather," Van Pelt said.

Van Pelt, the 24th ranked player in the world, honed his competitive skills in the snow while he was at Oklahoma State, where he played in conditions similar to those he faced on Wednesday.

"Coach [Mike] Holder made us do qualifying matches on days like this as long as we could putt," Van Pelt said. "Coach always felt like if we learned how to play in bad weather, we would have an advantage when we got into a tournament with those conditions.

"So just about every time we played in a bad weather tournament, we won."

Howell is one of those players that Holder made uncomfortable during his days at Oklahoma State. He has to wait another day to face Woods, who is trying to win is fourth Match Play title.

By the time the Howell-Woods match begins on Thursday, Van Pelt will most likely have finished off Senden, but he is not taking anything for granted.

"In match play you have to assume that the guy you are playing is going to birdie every hole," said Van Pelt, who was voted this week the co-chairman of the Player Advisory Council by the PGA Tour membership.

Van Pelt believes that conditions will be favorable once play resumes. Because with the course built on sand on the side of the mountain, it will absorb the moisture much faster than the typical golf course.

On Wednesday, Van Pelt wasn't the only player with memories of past encounters with sleet and snow. Webb Simpson once played a college tournament in Las Vegas in the sleet.

"We all charged toboggans to our coach in the pro shop, and he wasn't happy about it," said Simpson, who attended Wake Forest.

Like most of these players accustomed to weather delays, Simpson isn't changing his game plan because of the inclement weather.

"You have got to go with it, especially in a match-play tournament," the 2012 U.S. Open champion said. "Every day you could be going home or going to the next round. So I think everything is just kind of a little more laid-back here in just knowing anything could happen."