The advantage at TPC Blue Monster goes to the bombers

Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Bubba Watson's incredible length (323.5 average) off the tee has been an asset this week.
March 09, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

DORAL, Fla. -- The TPC Blue Monster at Doral did not originally get its name for its punishing length. It was dubbed the Blue Monster by Miami golf legend, the late Frank Strafaci, as he peered at the windblown white caps on the lake next to the 18th hole shortly after the course opened in 1962.

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But the golf course -- which this week is playing at 7,334 yards -- has remained true to its name largely because the key element to winning here has been the ability to bomb the tee ball, a formula borne out once again halfway through this week's World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.

The 36-hole leader at 12 under after a 62 on Friday, Bubba Watson, also leads the tournament in driving distance with a laughably long 323.5 average. He has hit some monstrous tee shots over two days, including two drives of 373 yards -- downwind, of course -- at No. 1 on Thursday and at No. 2 on Friday.

Justin Rose, who trailed Watson by a stroke after two rounds, is the exception among the top six on the leaderboard. Averaging a modest 288.5 yards off the tee so far, Rose is among the middle tier in driving distance on the PGA TOUR, but is long enough to have found a way to shoot 11 under while playing in the threesome with Watson alongside Mark Wilson.

Adam Scott, the first-round leader, is another bomber (299-yard average this week) and is another stroke back at 10 under after following his opening round of 66 with a 68. The three players behind him are also long hitters. Peter Hanson (298 yards) is at 9 under while Keegan Bradley (303 yards) and Thomas Bjorn check in at 8 under. Bjorn is averaging 282 for the week, but can move it out when he wants to as his 339-yard blast at the 14th hole on Thursday attests.

The list of winners since this became a World Golf Championships venue in 2007 does not include any short drivers: Tiger Woods in 2007, Geoff Ogilvy in 2008, Phil Mickelson in 2009, Ernie Els in 2010 and Nick Watney in 2011.

Woods, tied for 15th in a group at 5 under and by no means out of contention this week, has a theory about why.

"When Raymond did the redo on the bunkers, at the time, 280 was a carry," said Woods, referring to Raymond Floyd's course renovation leading up to the 1997 Doral-Ryder Open. "Now, you know, most of the golf courses we play, it's 310 to 320. If we get normal wind, or no wind at all, these bunkers really are not in play.

"So the longer hitters, it's just drive it down there and you've got a wedge in your hand."

Wedge, or sometimes less. Watson had 57 yards remaining for his second shot at the 399-yard, par-4 second hole Friday. And Scott, after a 299-yard drive at the 467-yard, par-four 18th, when the wind had softened in the late afternoon, had just 7-iron in and birdied the hole with a 20-foot putt.

Watson eagles No. 8

Bubba Watson hits his 225-yard second shot to 6 feet on the 532 yard, par-5 8th hole.

As good as Watson has looked so far, he will have his hands full winning this week. For one, he is not enamored of the 18th hole nor the golf course overall -- even though the 62 matches his career low round on TOUR, most recently at the 2010 Bob Hope Classic.

"You know, this golf course doesn't really suit me," he said. "My eye lines -- it's tough. It's tough for me. Not a big fan of No. 18. I normally play it really bad. Played it 1 under so far."

For another, in the nine events so far only two 36-hole leaders have gone on to win. Holding a lead here will depend on how the wind blows. It lessened on Friday, dropping some 10 mph to sustained winds of 15 or so. By the end of the day it was nearly flat calm. Saturday is not expected to be much different, but it might pick up again on Sunday.

Still, given the type of quality shots Watson has hit so far -- including the stinging 3-iron from 225 yards into the wind to set up an eagle at the par-5 eighth hole -- it's difficult to imagine him not being in the hunt this weekend. This golf course has, since the turn of the century produced just three champions who were not power players -- Jim Furyk in 2000, Joe Durant in 2001 and Scot Hoch in 2003.

It may or may not be Watson who prevails, but history favors someone who can overpower the Monster.