Daly flees course 'fearing for life' as lightning strikes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2001, 12:00am

American John Daly ran for his life after lightning 'scared the hell' out of him during yesterday's first round of the US$250,000 Macau Open. Daly and playing partner Nico van Rensburg of South Africa walked off the course at the Macau Golf and Country Club, but the rest of the field played on as Asian PGA officials assured players there was no lightning activity in the area.

But Daly and Van Rensburg said they feared for their lives when they saw lightning on the 16th hole, the highest point of the course. The pair took refuge in the clubhouse for 30 minutes before heading out to complete their rounds. The third member of their group, China's Zhang Lianwei, had waited on the 17th tee for them to return.

Two-time Major winner Daly and Van Rensburg avoided disqualification because of a rule that allows players to 'discontinue their round' if they fear for their safety, even though play had not been officially suspended.

Daly, who finished with a one-over-par 72, said: 'When I saw the lightning, it scared the hell out of me. I am scared of lightning. I have been told since I was a young kid to get out of the way. You don't mess with lightning.

'The Asian PGA [officials] say there was no danger. But we did not know that out there. I do not want to die from lightning. We made the decision to go in and that was a smart decision. There were a couple of huge bolts on the 16th and even when we went out again, I heard a rumble on the 17th. In this area a lot of guys keep playing. It is all about where you were brought up. In the States so many people get hit, we do not take a chance. Lightning can move so fast.'

Tournament director David Parkin downplayed the incident but defended Daly's actions, saying he had every right to walk off even though play had not been officially suspended. 'If players see lightning on the course, they are entitled to discontinue their round if they are afraid about their safety. The players heard a large clap of thunder. If that happens, players have the option to walk off,' he said.

'Our machines record lightning up to 40 miles away and there was none in the vicinity of the golf course. We checked with the local weather station and there was no lightning in the area. Their radar picked up nothing.'

But Van Rensburg said the lightning was real: 'On the 16th, there were two lightning bolts right over the top of us. I have had a number of near things with lightning and was not hanging about. This morning, when I was hitting balls on the practice range, I saw lightning. I cannot understand how it did not show up on the machine.'

World number four Lee Westwood, the 1999 Macau Open winner, trusted the officials' judgment and went ahead with his round to return a one-over-par 72 to share joint 26th place.

Westwood said: 'I heard thunder. I assumed it was fine to carry on. You have to leave it in the hands of the officials and trust they will not put lives in jeopardy. If they are happy enough, I am happy enough.'

Last year's European number one was 'happy' with his start. 'It was not too bad, I was a bit rusty but I could have been four or five under,' he said.

Daly, who hit six birdies, five bogeys and a double bogey, said: 'It was a round of survival. I did not hit it that bad but I caught a couple of fliers on the greens. I made a few birdies, but there were also some bogeys. I could not make a six footer to save my live out there.'

Taiwan's Yeh Wei-tze took the lead after carding a four-under-par 67. One stroke off the pace in joint-second place were Americans Scott Taylor and Andrew Pitts - last year's runner-up and the player who lost to Westwood in the Macau Open playoff in 1999 - Taiwan's Tsai Chi-huang and Lin Chie-hsiang, and Hong Kong's Dominique Boulet, all carding three-under-par 68s.

Yeh, who finished third in the Asian Order of Merit last year, said he was 'very confident' of doing well. 'It was getting dark and it was windy and rainy, but I am happy to get a good score and it has given me confidence for my next rounds,' he said.

Reigning Hong Kong and Macau Open champion Simon Dyson of England had a disastrous opening, carding a seven-over-par 78, but he said he had 'another day' to make the cut.