2006: The Monster matched
Next year, the tournament formerly known as the Ford Championship at Doral becomes a World Golf Championships extravaganza. Starting in 2007, the marquee will read like an eye doctor’s chart: WGC-CA Championship. But after another year with more mano-a-mano conflict than an episode of “Dancing with the Stars,” Tour officials may be thinking that Doral got the wrong WGC.
Welcome to the game’s only 72-hole match. The Ford Championship may masquerade as a medal-play event, but for the second consecutive year Doral was pretty much match play.
The first match was Tiger Woods against the Blue Monster, which the world No. 1 easily won with an opening-round 64.
By Saturday, Ford’s South Florida swan song seemed headed for a second lightning strike when Woods and Phil Mickelson teed off in the final group tied for the lead at 13 under. But Mickelson made a broken-watch par at No. 10 that cost him $200 and tournament officials a shot at Tiger v. Phil Part Deux.
Lefty parred the benign 10th hole when his second shot caromed off a fan’s wrist watch. Mickelson handed the man two C-notes for the damage and Woods – who piled on three consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 – a commanding lead. That left Woods 2 up on the field – and 4 up on Mickelson – with 18 to play.
On Sunday, Woods’ biggest opponent was himself.
He scraped together a 3-under-par front nine while hitting only two fairways. By the time he reached the daunting 18th tee, the leaderboard told him everything he needed to know. Woods, 2 up with one to play.
“Once David Toms had made his mistake (a bogey at No. 18), I was just trying to play for 5 (bogey). I wasn’t even trying to make par,” said Woods, who bogeyed the final hole for a closing 69 and a 20-under 268 total.
Game, set, match.
Not that Woods was unchallenged on Sunday. Toms, a match-play magician, closed on Woods, an unmatched magician, late in the final round, cutting his lead to one shot before his closing miscue. Rookie phenom and local Latino favorite Camilo Villegas was pretty good in pink the entire week. But neither could match what has become an increasingly familiar bromide on Tour.
“It’s like that a lot out here,” said Tag Ridings when asked about trying to make up ground when Woods is setting the pace.
Woods’ record as a closer would make Mariano Rivera proud. When taking at least a share of the lead into the final frame, he’s sealed the deal 34 out of 37 times. And when he leads by two or more heading into Sunday, he’s 20 for 20.
But maybe most alarming for all those who chase Woods for a living was his near-flawless 64 in calm conditions in Round 1. As was the case in San Diego when he won the Buick, Woods hit only 26 fairways for the week. But Woods’ first-day card featured an out-of-character 11 hit fairways.
Not bad for a guy who sheepishly admitted after the third round: “My entire life, I was never really a good driver of the golf ball.”
At Doral, like almost every Tour venue, Woods didn’t have to hit fairways. The Blue Monster was stripped of 358 trees by the ravaging winds of Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma last year. What remained was a layout wet from recent rains and, without any wind, virtually defenseless. Even when the tropical breezes did arrive on the weekend, it did little to stop the race to red numbers.
The cut came at 4 under, the lowest in 45 years at Doral, and Woods’ 268 total was the fourth-lowest in tournament history.
Then there’s Woods’ uncanny self-help function. Twice on the weekend, something in his 125 mph action went sideways. Twice he came up with a fix on the fly. Nobody rights the ship like Woods.
Unlike 2005, when his Hank Haney-redesigned swing was still in its embryonic stages, Woods no longer has to rely on Band-Aids to make it through the day.
“Last year at this time, I had so many things I was still working on that I had a hard time fixing it because if I hit one shot, it could be three, four different things I needed to work on to try and rectify that shot,” said Woods, who now has 48 PGA Tour titles. “Now I know exactly what to do, and I can rectify it on the very next shot.”
On Saturday, the correction came on No. 13. Something clicked on the par 3 and he responded with a 6-iron to 3 feet for a birdie. On Sunday, he quickly righted a case of the lefts. After that, the only fix he needed was the one he got hoisting the winner’s hardware.
Next year, the WGC-Match Play moves to Tucson. But if history holds, the year’s best match-play event will be held a few weeks later at Doral.