PLAINFIELD, N.J., JULY 26 -- A downpour halted the final round of the U.S. Women's Open today with 28 players still waiting to tee off, including leader Ayako Okamoto of Japan at 3-under-par 213 after 54 holes, and Laura Davies of England, just a stroke back. The round was suspended at 1:03 p.m. after thunderstorms left Plainfield Country Club unplayable.
Okamoto and Davies were in the clubhouse watching the skies darken when sirens sounded, initially suspending play at 11:46 a.m. The 40 players already on the course raced for shelter, most of their rounds barely begun. Play was called an hour later and rescheduled to begin Monday at 11:23 a.m., a half-hour earlier than today's scheduled start to accommodate television. If a playoff is necessary, it will be 18 holes on Tuesday.
USGA Senior Executive Director Frank Hannigan said the holes already completed today will stand.
Okamoto saw the weather become threatening from her hotel room shortly before noon but went to the clubhouse in case play could be resumed later. Suffering from sore back muscles, she was relieved when officials decided the course could not be made playable in time to complete the round. Water stood in bunkers and on the greens, and wind had scattered debris across the fairways of the 6,284 yard, par-72 layout.
"I feel half and half," Okamoto said through an interpreter. "I'm a little disappointed that it's not happening, but maybe I can perk myself up."
Okamoto, a 36-year-old veteran who is a superstar in Japan, is seeking her first major victory on the LPGA Tour. She has won three times this year, at the United Virginia Bank, Mayflower and Inamori classics, and is third on the money list with earnings of $293,295. She didn't appear nervous and said her only plans for the afternoon were to take a nap and order room service.
But Okamoto is fully aware of the fragility of her lead over Davies, a 23-year-old from England. Although she won five tournaments abroad last year, is the defending Women's British Open champion and is a former Curtis Cup player, this is only her third tournament in the United States: she played last year's Open and this year's Dinah Shore.
Davies has astonished fans and pros with the length of her driving, which results from a 5-foot-10, heavily built frame. She has hit by far the longest drives of the tournament, including a 276-yarder Saturday on the 385-yard 11th on the way to an even-par 72.
She has shown none of the typical signs of youth that might cause her to unravel in a major tournament.
But the delay did not help her today. It also complicated her travel plans, as she is scheduled to defend the British Open title next week in Cornwall, England. She did not relish the thought of another night of worry about her final here.
"It's just a little disappointing having to get all prepared for it, and now having to go through it all over again," she said.
For the most part, however, Davies was lighthearted. Asked what she would like to have shot today she said, "62." She said her plans were to redo her travel arrangments, to watch ESPN and to go shopping.
"There must be a good mall around here somewhere," she said.
The condition of the course complicates matters for Okamoto, who is openly admiring of Davies' golf game. While Okamoto might be considered the favorite under normal circumstances because of her experience, she may now be at a slight disadvantage against Davies' length. The course, a Donald Ross design with swooning fairways and hard doglegs, will play even longer than usual as a result of the damp fairways. But Okamoto may have an advantage around the greens; she has a tendency to shoot straight at the pin and the softened putting surfaces will hold her shots.
Okamoto also has to be given the edge on the basis of her performances in majors this year. She tied for fifth at the Dinah Shore, tied for third at the LPGA, and finished second at the du Maurier Classic two weeks ago behind Jody Rosenthal, relinquishing a six-shot lead on the final day. The consensus is that she is long overdue.
Davies' length has been compared to Hall of Famer JoAnne Carner's, and it is an interesting comparison since Carner is just three strokes back at 216, even par. Between them is little-known veteran Martha Nause, who fought her way into contention after an opening-round 76 by going 69-70 over the last two rounds to reach 1 under.
Other prominent favorites still in contention are Rosenthal, at 217, and a particularly dangerous trio at 218 in second-leading money winner King, outstanding rookie Tammie Green and veteran Sandra Palmer.
Two more, however, have faded: Jane Geddes has struggled throughout the tournament for 223, and Nancy Lopez, even par through two rounds, came apart Saturday with 77 and is at 221.