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Rain delays Tiger-mania in Turkey

Paul Mahoney in Turkey
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The crowds flocked to watch Tiger hit his opening tee shot © Getty Images
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To the relief of everyone at the Turkish Airlines Open, no one got walloped on the first tee this year as Tiger Woods made his entrance playing in the marquee group with Race to Dubai leader Henrik Stenson and US Open champion Justin Rose.

In the inevitable melee that surrounds Tiger, last year on his debut appearance in Turkey, a photographer got rather too close to the World No.1 for the liking of Turkey Golf Federation president Ahmet Agaoglu - who promptly lamped the over-excited snapper.

Thankfully the only storm to rock the Montgomerie Course here was of the thunder and lightning variety. It lasted all night and through the morning turning several bunkers into Jacuzzis and causing a three-hour delay. It meant Woods's group only completed 10 holes and early alarm calls will need to be booked as all but three groups will have to return after breakfast on Friday to complete their first rounds before normal sunshine service is resumed for the second round.

Woods and Rose finished one-under par and Stenson four-under. Paul Casey is among the group leading at seven-under par.

Despite the lack of fisticuffs on the first tee, chaos still reined when Tiger set off after his opening drive as hundreds of spectators swarmed inside the ropes and followed him up the fairway. The hapless marshals were lost in the stampede and surrendered any hope of regaining some modicum of order and decorum. There was nothing rowdy or drink-fuelled about this invasion; it was merely a joyful rush of excitement and a desire to see Tiger.

Woods will return on Friday to finish his first round © Getty Images
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In fact, the spectators hushed themselves when players were about to play shots and they behaved perfectly.

There was not a sound to be heard save for the mesmerising chant of the call to prayer wafting across the course from a nearby mosque. The atmosphere was more like an old fashioned exhibition match like Shell's Wonderful World of Golf from yesteryear as fans ringed a bunker to get a closer view of Stenson splashing out of the sand on the second hole.

There was a refreshing naivety about it which made the occasion all the more enjoyable - especially with the added bonus of not one single yahoo yelling "bababooey" or "get in the hole".

Woods hit only one fairway in his 10 completed holes and his troubles began with his very first shot leaking it right into the rain-sodden asparagus rough. He still made birdie after thrashing his ball further along the par-five then fizzing a wedge to four feet and rattling the putt home.

"I love you Tiger," squealed a young girl in the crowd. People laughed. Tiger didn't even break out of his deadpan business face. He's heard it all before.

Tigermania has come late to Turkey but he's here now and they love him and they so want to show him their affection. They even applauded his iron shot at the par-three fifth despite the fact Woods hit it fat, one hand came off the club and his ball just made it over the pond as he stared at the ground in disgust.

The torrential rain had made the greens as soft and receptive as porridge. Only nine players returned scores over par as most helped themselves to the birdies buffet served up for them. Which made Woods's score all the more disappointing.

"I probably left a little out there and I see that seven under par is leading at this stage so the goal in the holes I have left in the morning is to pick up a few quick birdies," Woods said as darkness called and end to the proceedings.

"It just gets dark so quickly it's like someone just turned off the light switch," he said. "The air now also is heavy with moisture so the ball is not going very far compared to when we were warming up on the range and early in the round.

Towards the end we were hitting about a half-a-club short," he said. "I'm still working on getting a bit of the rust out of my game but then tomorrow is going to be a long day for all of us," Woods said. Not least for the marshals. The thousands of fans coming to worship the World No.1 on Friday will be treated to a 26-hole Tiger-fest.

Reinforcements - and more rope - may be needed.

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