DOHA, Qatar -- European Tour officials reduced the Commercialbank Qatar Masters to 54 holes when they called off play Friday after strong winds moved golf balls and blowing sand reduced visibility on several holes.
Officials initially suspended play at 9:13 a.m. local time after gusts of up to 35 mph. Safety became an issue, with signs getting blown around.
They were hoping to resume play in the early afternoon, but with no sign of a respite, they called off the round. Play will restart at 8:45 a.m. on Saturday.
First-round leader Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano dropped two shots on his first five holes to fall to 4 under through seven.
John Daly was among those who did not hit a shot, but the 45-year-old ranked 543rd in the world moved into the lead with Fernandez-Castano’s bogeys. Daly, the multiple major winner, is chasing his first victory in eight years, had opened with a 5-under 67.
This year is the 15th staging of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters, and all have been played at Doha Golf Club.
Fernandez-Castano, who won the Barclays Singapore Open in November when that event was trimmed to three rounds because of thunderstorms, is a stroke behind, as are Jason Day (par through 6 holes) and K.J. Choi, who had yet to start.
"It was windy when we went out and I had a few birdie chances, but then I bogeyed two holes into the wind," said Fernandez-Castano, with a chance to go top of the European Ryder Cup points list by winning. "I hope tomorrow I can take advantage of the remaining 10 holes I have. I didn't have any balls moving, but certain shots you could hardly keep balanced. Being selfish I'm quite happy play was called off."
Jose Manuel Lara of Spain, who shot a 9-over 81 on Thursday, withdrew Friday with a bad back.
Tournament Director David Probyn said sponsors and those holding television rights wanted to end the tournament on Sunday, so it was reduced rather than postponed.
“There is no point in us putting the guys out on the questionable golf course for one or two hours because it is not going to change the situation in what we can achieve if we have to finish Sunday night,” Probyn said. “We have taken a decision to suspend play and come back tomorrow morning.”
Probyn said the winds hadn’t damaged infrastructure but had caused balls to move on several greens. He said the weather forecast was for conditions to improve Saturday.
“We are really not expecting a problem. It will be maybe 20 mph maximum tomorrow, which should not be a problem for us,” he said. “It has just been the gusts that have been over 35 mph today that have prevented us from playing.”
About 66 golfers had started the second round before play was suspended, and most seemed relieved to leave Doha Golf Club.
Lee Westwood, who missed the cut last year and was 1 over for the tournament through six holes Friday, had already shifted to cheering on England’s cricket team against Pakistan in a test in Dubai.
“No play today!,” Westwood tweeted. “If I’m quick I might just get back to the hotel to see the end of England’s innings! It’s a good 15 mins back!”
Westwood said he felt the six holes he played Friday were manageable but admitted the European Tour had heard from other groups who had reported their balls had moved.
“It’s a tough decision to make, really, for the tour when a course becomes unplayable,” Westwood said. “The holes that we played … the wind was playable and the ball wasn’t moving on the green. But I understand the European Tour has to take the whole course into account and I think they mentioned 7 and 5 the ball was moving around.”
Westwood said the “worst-case scenario” would have been to send himself and others in the early groups to finish their rounds and to allow those who hadn’t started to play in easier conditions on Saturday. Suspending play for everyone, he said, was the “fairest outcome.”
Westwood's day began well with a birdie on the 11th, but he double bogeyed the next. And when he ran up a 5 on the 410-yard 14th he was 1over and only tied for 48th along with Graeme McDowell, who had bogeyed the 11th and birdied the 14th.
Despite the conditions, Ireland's Damien McGrane went to the turn in a 5-under 31, but he had started with a 78 and so was still only 1 over. Four birdies in six holes by South African Branden Grace, twice a winner already this season in his native South Africa, lifted him into a tie for 15th on 1 under.
"The course is still on the verge of playable, but there's no point sending the guys out for an hour or two on a marginal course," Probyn said. "The winds will be down a notch tomorrow and decreasing during the day, while the forecast for Sunday is for much calmer conditions."