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Wind stops third round in the desert

Mark Wilson has a three-shot lead, and tournament officials hope the Humana Challenge can end as scheduled Sunday.

January 21, 2012|By Diane Pucin
  • PGA West personnel inspect the area where a scoreboard fell and landed in the water near the 18th hole of the Palmer Private Course on Saturday.
PGA West personnel inspect the area where a scoreboard fell and landed in… (Ben Margot / Associated…)

Reporting from La Quinta -- All of a sudden it was windy, sunny and sandy at the Humana Challenge on Saturday.

Gusts reported up to 50 mph blew a scoreboard into a lake on one course and made golf balls on the green at another course do a little dance without the aid of a putter before third-round play was suspended.

Tournament leader Mark Wilson described seeing tree branches blowing past him on the La Quinta Country Club course and Zach Johnson said balls were moving around the green at the Nicklaus Private course.

Play will resume at 7:30 a.m. Sunday with the completion of the third round. The amateurs, including former President Bill Clinton, will not return for the finish.

Wilson has a three-shot lead over second-round co-leader Ben Crane. Wilson is 21 under par through 15 holes of his third round, with Crane at 18 under through 12 holes. Johnson is 17 under through 13 holes, a shot ahead of a group of three that includes John Mallinger of Long Beach.

Phil Mickelson was four under through 12 holes for his round and five under overall, one off the cut line.

Slugger White, the PGA Tour's vice president of rules and competition who made the decision to suspend play, called the situation, especially at La Quinta, "Really bad."

White said that at La Quinta, one of the three courses used at the tournament, "They got a lot of trees down. In fact we're sending … a crew with some chain saws to cut the trees that are down."

Play was first suspended at 1:13 p.m. at La Quinta and then 12 minutes later at both the PGA West Palmer Private and Nicklaus Private courses. No one finished the third round.

White said he knew the wind was becoming a serious problem when he got a phone call from someone at La Quinta. "They told me that trees were blowing down and the [portable toilets] were all over the place and balls wouldn't stay on the greens."

Wilson said he was on the par-three third hole of the back nine at La Quinta when things turned "crazy."

"I had no idea what club to hit. I was between a four-iron, three-iron, two-iron, all different clubs. I hit a good shot up around the green and it went 30 yards over just because the wind took it."

Johnson, who was six under for his Saturday round through 13 holes, said he'd never seen weather change so quickly and, he said, "so fierce."

At one point a tent used for the media was evacuated and fans walking through Hope Square, an area of tents for dining and merchandise, were told to go to the driving range or the clubhouse at the Palmer Private course.

But the driving range area was also closed and patrons were advised to leave through an access road that was blocked as Clinton's motorcade was leaving the grounds. Clinton was playing with Greg Norman.

No injuries were reported.

White said that weather forecasts had predicted winds around 10 to 20 mph.

"It was supposed to get bad, but we thought it was going to be something we could play with. Then this," White said. "The bottom just fell out on us."

And though White said he was hopeful to get the tournament finished as scheduled Sunday, Wilson, for one, was not so hopeful.

"I doubt it," Wilson said. "I've done the math. I don't know how they can get it done tomorrow."

The weather forecast is for sun Sunday. Without the sand.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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