ST. JAMES, Barbados (AP) – Stewart Cink was standing 105 yards from the pin, circumstances under which he’d typically select a wedge, put an easy swing on the ball and watch it nestle relatively close to the cup.

Instead, he grabbed a 6-iron, took a mighty swing – and the ball still was short of the green, eventually leading to a bogey for the United States.

“It was the worst conditions I’d ever played in,” Cink would say later about one brief squall.

Yet the periods of rain, fueled by 45 mph wind gusts, eventually let up – allowing the American team of Cink and J.J. Henry to make a run at the leaders after the opening round of the World Cup.

Bolstered by three straight birdies on the back nine, Cink and Henry finished with a 5-under 66 Thursday, putting them two shots off the lead at Barbados’ famed Sandy Lane course.

Argentina, South Africa and Sweden all shared the lead at 7-under, with Germany and defending champion Wales both one shot back.

The Americans were another stroke off the pace, along with England and South Korea.

“All things considered, I don’t think we played our best today,” Henry said. “But at the same time, with the conditions playing pretty difficult and hard to get the ball close to the hole, I guess we’re a couple shots back and right where we need to be.”

Cink and Henry are bidding to deliver their nation’s 24th World Cup title – and what would be the first for the U.S. since 2000, when Tiger Woods and David Duval prevailed.

The weather-plagued bogey came on the par-5 sixth hole and the Americans were well down the leaderboard midway through their round, before Henry’s birdie try on the par-5 ninth stayed on line just long enough to fall into the right side of the cup. The U.S. played bogey-free on the back side.

“I think a lot of teams might have folded in there a little bit after bogeying the par-5, but we understand how difficult the conditions were,” said Cink, who changed his soggy insoles after that dreadful sixth hole. “To make bogey there wasn’t exactly the end of the world, especially at this stage of the game.”

An early bogey, even in fourball play, didn’t doom Argentina’s team of Andres Romero and Angel Cabrera, either – who are aiming to claim their country’s first golf World Cup since 1953, when Roberto De Vicenzo and Antonio Cerda won it in the event’s opening year.

They were one of only two teams to make bogey at the relatively easy par-4 opening hole, but recovered nicely from there, playing the final 17 holes in 8-under, including a stretch of five straight birdies from holes 12 through 16.

“We didn’t play well the first nine holes,” Cabrera said. “Thank goodness we played well on the back nine holes.”

South Africa’s team of Rory Sabbatini and Richard Sterne finished their round of 64 by making birdie at the par-3 finishing hole, as did the Swedes and Germans, who finished one shot back at 6-under along with defending champion Wales.

England’s Luke Donald and David Howell also finished 5-under, while five nations – Colombia, Japan, Ireland, Scotland and South Korea – were another shot back

In all, 15 teams, or nearly two-thirds of the field, finished within four shots of the lead in Thursday’s fourball format. The 24 nations will play foursomes Friday and Sunday, with another fourball round Saturday.

Weather played a major role at last year’s World Cup in Portugal, when heavy rain and high winds forced the cancellation of the final round.

And the elements quickly became a significant factor again for Thursday’s opening round at Sandy Lane, as gusty breezes along with sporadic rain and soaked fairways added to the challenge.

“Not quite what you’d expect from Barbados,” Sterne said.

The winds were so daunting that Henry, after an uphill chip from near the 13th green, jogged to his ball and marked it before the breezes had an opportunity to push it back down the slope he’d just hit from.

Germany’s Bernhard Langer, part of a World Cup win in 1990, said he had a similar experience on the tee at the par-3 11th, which he reached during a particularly nasty squall.

“I had no clue what to hit or how to hit it,” Langer said. “I just wanted to hit it and get back under the umbrella.”

Similar conditions are expected over the next three days in Barbados, although there’s a chance that the rain will let up somewhat over the weekend. The strong winds, though, are expected through Sunday.

“You take the good with the bad,” Cink said. “And we’re just going to go out there and fight like we can fight.”

AP-ES-12-07-06 1626EST


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