Storm Delays Woods’ Charge
James Hinchcliffe, of Canada, kisses his girlfriend Kirsten Dee after winning the IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg auto race, Sunday, March 24, 2013, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Orlando, Fla. — Tiger Woods is going to have to wait one more day to try to reclaim No. 1 in the world.
Moments after Woods made a 10-foot birdie putt on the second hole yesterday, a vicious thunderstorm packing gusts that topped out at 62 mph interrupted the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and wiped out play until today.
The storm dumped nearly 1½ inches of rain on Bay Hill and formed small ponds in the fairways — there was even a fish in the middle of the 18th fairway. The wind toppled the TV tower behind the 10th green, which was a pile of metal poles, wood, mesh netting and had a stationary camera in the middle of it all.
About an hour after a tornado warning expired, officials said they would need time to clean up the course and let it drain. The final round was to resume at 10 a.m. today.
Woods is going after his eighth win at Bay Hill, which would return him to No. 1 in the world ranking for the first time since the last week of October in 2010.
He hit all of six shots yesterday, enough to build a three-shot lead over Rickie Fowler, John Huh, Ken Duke and Woodstock, Vt., native Keegan Bradley.
There was plenty of action on a short day, none more bizarre than Sergio Garcia.
The Spaniard’s tee shot on the 10th hole somehow came to rest about 15 feet up in an oak tree, sitting between two large branches. Garcia used a cart to jump into the tree, and after a few minutes, hit a one-handed, back-handed shot back to the fairway, before jumping some 8 feet back to the ground.
Two holes later, the horn sounded. McGirt said Garcia handed him the scorecard and said, “I’m out of here.” Garcia earlier had taken a 9 on the par-5 sixth hole.
Busch Avoids Wreck,
Wins at Fontana
Fontana, Calif. — Kyle Busch earned his first victory of the season at Fontana yesterday after rivals Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano wrecked on the final lap in a thrilling NASCAR finish.
Hamlin and Logano made contact while they raced side-by-side in the final lap of their first race since the drivers confronted each other last week at Bristol. Logano hit the outside wall and Hamlin hit the inside wall, with Hamlin getting attention in an ambulance and eventually getting aiflifted to a hospital due to traffic around the track.
Defending Fontana champion Tony Stewart then confronted Logano after the race and shoved the younger driver before teammates pulled them apart. Logano blocked Stewart out of a late restart, infuriating the veteran three-time Sprint Cup series champion, who finished 22nd.
Busch led the most laps in his Toyota and took advantage of his remarkable stroke of luck to pick up Joe Gibbs Racing’s first victory at Fontana, the only track where the team had never won. Toyota also got its first Fontana win.
St. Petersburg, Fla. — James Hinchcliffe picked up his first career IndyCar Series victory in yesterday’s season opener at St. Petersburg, where Andretti Autosport showed it’s picked up right where it left off after last year’s championship season.
Hinchcliffe passed Helio Castroneves on the final restart to take the lead and held on to win by 1.09 seconds over defending race winner Castroneves. He becomes the first Canadian to win since Paul Tracy’s 2007 victory at Cleveland in the CART Series.
Sepang, Malaysia — Three-time defending Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel held off Red Bull teammate Mark Webber in a scintillating battle to win Malaysian Grand Prix yesterday.
Vettel, who earlier in the race complained to the team about Webber’s slow pace, battled the Australian for much of the day, with the cars almost touching as the German grabbed the lead on the 46th lap for his 27th victory. The surprising run of Mercedes continued, with 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton coming in third ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg.
Sharapova Reaches Fourth Round
Key Biscayne, Fla. — Mired in a marathon game midway through the opening set, Maria Sharapova wore down her opponent with characteristic resolve and relentlessness, winning the last point without hitting a shot.
That put Sharapova ahead to stay, and she beat fellow Russian Elena Vesnina on a muggy, 85-degree afternoon at the Sony Open, 6-4, 6-2.
The No. 3-seeded Sharapova moved into the fourth round, eager to fill one of the few holes in her resume. While she completed a career Grand Slam last year, she has never won Key Biscayne, losing the final in 2005, ‘06, ‘11 and ‘12.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” she said. “It’s one of the biggest tournaments for us, and it’s one that I have been the most consistent at, being in four finals, but yet not winning it. I would definitely love to go a step further here.”
Her pivotal moment Sunday came at 3-all in the first set. The next game went to deuce seven times, with Sharapova repeatedly erasing a deficit, until Vesnina dumped a weary second serve into the net on break point.
“That was a very important game,” Sharapova said. “It was a really long one. I was ready for a water break.”
All told, Sharapova benefited from eight double-faults by the No. 29-seeded Vesnina, and erased eight of the nine break points she faced.
Lauren Davis of the United States lost to No. 32-seeded Alize Cornet at the peak of the heat, and their 2½-hour match left both players so exhausted they were taken off the court in wheelchairs. Davis also required treatment in the third set after being stung by a wasp.
Both players later said they were fine. Cornet won 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, seeking his fourth Key Biscayne title and third in a row, defeated No. 254-ranked Somdev Devvarman 6-2, 6-4. Djokovic next faces No. 15-seeded Tommy Haas, who beat No. 19 Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3, 6-2.
Haas turns 35 next month and is playing at Key Biscayne for the 12th time.
“You can always expect Tommy to fight and try his best,” Djokovic said. “So I know what to expect. It’s going to be a tough match.”
Among the seeded women to lose were No. 6 Angelique Kerber, No. 11 Nadia Petrova and No. 14 Maria Kirilenko. Kerber was beaten by No. 28 Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-0. Petrova was ousted by No. 22 Jelena Jankovic 7-6 (7), 6-4. Kirilenko lost to No. 21 Klara Zakopalova 6-2, 7-6 (4).
The sweltering sunshine was motivation to work quickly, but Sharapova needed nearly two hours to eliminate Vesnina. Both players struggled with their serve as they battled the island breeze, and both rued missed chances. Sharapova converted only four of 18 break points.
When Vesnina finally sailed a shot long to lose the opening set, Sharapova screamed and shook her fist at the ball, as though trying to intimidate it. The gesture seemed to work, and she claimed the second set more easily.
“It was a matter of patience,” Sharapova said. “In situations like this where it’s tough and it’s hot, it kind of levels out the game a little bit, and with the windy conditions you have to be a bit more patient. That was really important today.”
Vesnina fell to 1-18 against top-five players.
Sharapova seeks to become only the third woman to win Indian Wells and Key Biscayne back to back. She beat Caroline Wozniacki in the Indian Wells final a week ago and has a record of 16-2 this year.
She has lost Key Biscayne finals to Kim Clijsters, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska. Her history at the tournament actually dates back even further — to grade school, when her family lived Bradenton, Fla., and would attend matches as spectators.
“It was just a four-hour drive down,” she said. “We’d watch Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and I remember watching Marcelo Rios playing. I loved watching him play, and especially all the Latin fans at close to midnight still going strong. It was a great atmosphere.
“I was a fan, and now I’m a player here.”
But not yet a champion. Top-ranked Serena Williams looms as a potential opponent in Saturday’s final.
Chivas USA 4, Fire 1
Bridgeview, Ill. — Defender Joaquin Velazquez and striker Juan Agudelo scored midway through the second half to lead Chivas USA to a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Fire on Sunday.
Velazquez gave Chivas (2-1-1) a 2-1 lead on a header in the 73rd minute. He directed midfielder Edgar Mejia’s long cross from the left side past goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi before Chicago’s defenders could react.
Agudelo scored just under 2 minutes later. He took a loose ball, ran to the goal, and scored from 15 yards out when Chicago midfielder Jeff Larentowicz backed off.
Chivas added an own goal in the 89th minute when Fire defender Jalil Anibaba knocked Jose Correa’s centering pass into the Chicago goal.
Patrick Nyarko scored Chicago’s only goal, its first of the season after 333 minutes, 57 seconds, plus stoppage time, without a tally. It tied the match, but only for 9 minutes.
Mejia opened the scoring on a 24-yard blast in the 57th minute.
The Fire dropped to 0-3-1.