Brian Stuard didn’t have much to worry about Thursday during a nearly five-hour weather delay that interrupted the first round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Stuard was walking up the 18th fairway on his way to an 8-under-par 64, his lowest round this season, when PGA Tour officials suspended play just before noon with a band of severe thunderstorms approaching TPC Louisiana.
Stuard didn’t get a chance to hit his third shot at the par-5 finishing hole until play resumed at 4:52 p.m., when he went back to work after killing lots of time in the clubhouse by eating, looking at his phone and watching the clock tick — all while keeping one eye on the radar.
Stuard’s approach left him an 18-foot birdie putt that just missed the mark, but he still posted the low score among the players who completed their rounds before play was suspended by darkness at 7:32 p.m.
Seventy-eight players — exactly half the 156-man field — will return at 8 a.m. Friday to complete their opening round, with the second round starting shortly after the first round concludes.
Like Stuard, two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen did most of his work before the thunderstorms rolled in and posted a 7-under 65. Five others — Charles Howell III, J.J. Henry, Geoff Ogilvy, Derek Ernst and Patrick Rodgers — shared third with 67s.
Jason Day, the No. 1 player in the world, shot a 69 during an up-and-down day, and Rickie Fowler, who is ranked fifth, had a 68. Defending champion Justin Rose was 1-under through six holes when darkness set in.
The weather woes didn’t bother the 33-year-old Stuard, a non-winner in 219 career starts on the PGA and Web.com tours and the 513th-ranked player in the world, as much as some others on what turned out to be a long day.
Perhaps that was because he had already negotiated the dangerous par-3 17th and the tee shot on No. 18, two holes where water comes into play.
“Yeah, I wasn’t really worried too much about it,” a smiling Stuard said. “It probably would have been a little different if you were back on the (18th) tee or on 17 having to wait those four or five hours. But yeah, (the approach shot on No. 18) was a pretty easy shot.”
Stuard, who has made just $70,095 in six PGA Tour starts this season, credited his low score to a new putter that he picked up at the Texas Open, where he finished in a tie for 55th.
He got going early Thursday with three birdies in his first three holes — finding the cup from 12 feet at No. 1, 33 feet at the par-5 second and 22½ feet on the fourth hole.
Stuard also had par-saving putts of 32½ feet at No. 12 and 20 feet at the 17th for a 64 that he admitted he never saw coming.
“I think it was just one of those things where I really had the putter going. … That was the biggest thing,” he said. “I hit it well tee to green. I didn’t hit it 64 well, but I putted 64 well.”
Goosen also had a solid day, even though he was disappointed to have to wait around for nearly five hours to play the final four rounds.
He fired a 6-under 30 on the front nine, capping it with consecutive birdies at Nos. 7 through 9. He added another birdie at No. 13 before the weather delay.
“I was in a good rhythm and had some momentum,” he said of his early play. “Then I was actually sleeping on the floor in the clubhouse at one stage. Delays are a pain in the butt — especially rain delays — when you have a good round going.”
Ogilvy, Howell and Henry rebounded nicely after slow starts to finish the day within striking distance of Stuard.
Ogilvy, a former U.S. Open champion, opened with three consecutive birdies before he added six birdies and one bogey to his card, while Howell dropped to 1-over after three holes before picking up an eagle and four birdies to join the group at 5-under.
Henry, a former U.S. Ryder Cup member, started with five pars in a row before carding five birdies over a 13-hole stretch in a bogey-free round.
Starting on the back nine, Day shot 5-under 31 before carding four bogeys and two birdies on the front side. He dropped a shot on each of the last two holes he played after the weather delay to finish with a 69.
“It’s under par — that’s all I can really take from it,” Day said. “I had two holes left (after the delay) and was clearly a little frustrated. But I’m looking forward to (Friday).”