Finishing hole proving to be monstrous test at CadillacMarch 08, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM
DORAL, Fla. -- With Donald Trump taking over the Doral Golf Resort and Spa in June, and the architect Gil Hanse hired to renovate the golf course -- currently known as the TPC Blue Monster at Doral -- it's a certainty that change will sweep through the premises like the 25 mph east wind that blew across the place on Thursday.MORE FROM DORMAN
And if the first round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship proved anything, it's that no changes are needed at the legendary18th hole at the 50-year-old golf course.
At least, not if the objective is to challenge the best players in the world to make par at the final hole. That's what three of the top four did. Adam Scott (66) Thomas Bjorn (68) and Charl Schwartzel (68) all negotiated the 467 yards in four strokes. Jason Dufner, who shot 66 and was tied at the top with Scott, could have had the lead alone but bogeyed 18.
With the huge lake bordering the left, palm trees and heavy rough to the right and the prevailing wind whistling across the hole, as it expected to do for the remainder of the tournament, there is basically no bailout available.
Schwartzel, the reigning Masters champion who finished second here in 2010, said his par at the 18th -- which he played with a driver and a 5-iron -- "felt like an eagle."
"That's as tough a wind as you can play it in," he said. "If you bail, you are probably going to make bogey anyway. It's one of those where you have to just take it on. I ran off there with a 4. I'm very happy."
He was one of the fortunate few. Consider some harrowing stats from the 18th: There were more bogeys, double-bogeys and triple-bogeys (a total of 42) than there were pars (30); the stroke average of 4.743 was higher than that for the par-5 first hole (4.743).
Now, it isn't unusual for opening holes to be less challenging than finishing holes. Not surprising, then that Hanse will start his renovation at the beginning by lengthening the first hole considerably from its current 529-yard form. It plays downwind most of the year, and most of the field can reach it with short irons.
Luke Donald was a textbook study in how things went. He birdied the first and double-bogeyed the last. He was 4 under on the tee at 18, but hit his approach from the middle of the fairway with a 3-wood went into the lake. He finished with a 2-under 70, and actually was not all that displeased.
"Well, I hit 3-wood into 18, par 4, and I hit 7-iron into the first, which is a par 5," he said. "So, obviously, when you get this sort of east, southeast wind, it just plays very tough."
It was a similar story for Tiger Woods, who had to fight his way to a round of even-par 72 after starting the day with an eagle at the first and finishing with a bogey at the last. He three-putted twice, and was fighting with club selection in the gusting winds.
For Rory McIlroy, the FedExCup No. 4 and freshly-minted No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking after his win last week at The Honda Classic, it was the same story. Birdie at the first, bogey at the last and a round of 1-over 73.
"It was a bit of a struggle," he said. "It was a pretty tricky day. To be honest, I felt a little flat out there. I don't know. I shouldn't. It's a World Golf Championship, but just felt a little flat out there.
"But look, I'll go out there tomorrow and try my best, try to get in red figures and see what I can do."
A unique approach to No. 18
Dustin Johnson took an unusual line off the tee -- right at a cameraman supported by crane right of the fairway.
That is precisely what will be needed for anyone to get into, or stay in, contention for the weekend. The golf course has always favored power players who can fight their way through the elements, drawing on whatever resolve they have to deal with the windy conditions, and figure out the grain in the tricky Bermuda greens.
"It was just a difficult day," said Woods who, along with McIlroy, is among the players who could come from off the pace. "The wind was blowing putts around, and it made for a challenging round."
And among the leaders, Scott, who is certainly well-rested after playing just his sixth PGA TOUR round of the year, can be a good front-runner and is certainly long enough to take advantage of the par 5s. Bjorn, an excellent wind player and ball-striker who got through the day without a bogey on the card, also is one to watch. Schwartzel, whose lone bogey came at the par-3 4th hole, is rounding into form and likes this course.
The conditions are not likely to get much easier. The wind is expected to blow 15-20 mph on Friday, a slight drop from Thursday, but from the same direction. Stricker, who hit his approach at 18 into the water with a fairway wood, salvaged a good bogey with an 8-footer for a 69.
He also outlined the formula for dealing with the Blue Monster the rest of the week.
"The course is playable," he said. "You can see it in the scores. It's still playable, whether we have this wind or not, so it's manageable out there, and you just have to play hard and play well."
And, when it comes down to it, par the 18th.