Staff Photo: John Bohn Tom Pernice Jr. hits out of a bunker near the first green during the first round of the PGA Champions Tour 2013 Greater Gwinnett Championship held at TPC Sugarloaf. Inclement weather delayed the start of play four hours.
DULUTH -- It took a while, but the inclement weather that moved into north Georgia early Friday finally abated long enough for the first round of the 2013 Greater Gwinnett Championship to tee off at TPC Sugarloaf.
But neither the persistent rain and plunging temperatures nor the ensuing four-hour delay to the start of play could slow down Bart Bryant and David Frost, who share the lead at 4-under par after Friday's play.
Bryant was one of a handful of golfers to actually complete his first round after firing a 68 to take the lead into the clubhouse, while Frost still has five more holes to play after a birdie on the par-5 fourth hole pulled him into a tie for the lead when play ended.
"It was so nice," Bryant said. "I think I might've been the last guy to hit before the horn went off. Luckily, the official saw us there on No. 8 and said, 'If you hurry to No. 9 and tee off, I'm going to let you go.' So, I got over there pretty quick. It's nice to get all 18 in and not have to come back in the morning."
The elements and ensuing delay did, however, slow down the tournament, as 57 of the 81 players remained on the course when play was halted just after 8 p.m. due to darkness.
Those players will resume play to complete their rounds this morning at 8 a.m. before second round can begin later in the day.
While a few players like Gene Sauers (birdies on the first three holes) and former Marietta resident Bob Tway (birdies on the first two holes) got off to hot starts, it took Bryant took a little longer to begin to heat up.
The 50-year-old Gatesville, Texas, native -- who, like Frost, started his round on the 10th tee -- parred his first four holes before birdies on No. 14, 15 and 18, with a bogey on 17 sandwiched in between, put him into red numbers.
"It was funny. The first four holes, I just kind of uglied it, but made pars," Bryant said. "And then (I) hit one close on 14 and made about an 18-footer (putt) on 15. I kind of played poorly, but then all of the sudden, I was 2-under with two good shots. Sometimes, it works like that."
Among the group one shot back at 3-under, Duffy Waldorf and Neal Lancaster are the only two players who have completed their rounds, while Andrew Magee is in the clubhouse at 2-under and a group of five golfers completed the first round at 1-under, including Tway.
Among the notables names who still need to complete the opening round, but are close to the lead, Mark O'Meara at 3-under (through 13 holes), Tom Watson at 2-under (through 13), Marietta resident Larry Nelson at 1-under (though 12) and former Georgia Tech golfer and 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize at even par (though 12).
Duluth native James Mason started slow and was as much as 3-over early in his round, but rallied to finish his round at 1-over 73.
Notes: The inclement weather and its corresponding long delay Friday apparently didn't do John Huston's back any good.
The 51-year-old winner of seven PGA Tour events and one Champions Tour tournament withdrew due to pain in his back shortly before his scheduled tee time of 4:50 p.m.
He was replaced in the field by an alternate who is another familiar face to Georgia golf fans -- three-time former University of Georgia All-American and 1993 Masters runner-up Chip Beck.
Perhaps affected by the late notice of his entry into the tournament, the 56-year-old Beck got off to a very rough start with double bogeys on his first two holes -- the 10th and 11th, since his threesome played the back nine first.
However, he battled back to even par by the time he made the turn before bogeying the par-4 first hole, and standing at 1-over through 12 holes when play was halted.
With the poor weather and long delay the galleries were predictably small throughout the day Friday.
As a result, tournament officials announced late Friday that due to the weather and the delays it caused, fans holding tickets for Friday's opening round can have those tickets honored for one day during the remainder of the tournament.
Even fans who did come to the course Friday can use those tickets for admission either for today's action or Sunday's final round.