Five Things: Top players deliver at Doral
Thursday, March 10, 2011
DORAL, Fla. – There they were, the best three players in the world, ball-striking machines stalking birdie chances with flawless precision, putting on a brilliant show.
Yet plenty of great seats remained.
And that goes for inside the ropes, too, because even golf writers from the other side of the pond were not following along with Nos. 1, 2 and 3 – European brethren Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, and Luke Donald.
Then again, the other option was pretty good, too – Nos. 4, 5 and 6 – Graeme McDowell, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson.
But while the fascination with Woods once again dominated both fan and media interest, the golf with the European dynamos was far, far better. Thanks to a freakish storm that popped up and delayed the festivities for a few hours, the first round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship wasn’t completed, but that doesn’t mean that the Ryder Cup heroes didn’t have time to toss down some dramatics.
Then again, it was the day to do it, because Doral’s famed Blue Monster had the bite of a three-week-old child. When the storm passed through, not a breath of wind was left, greens were soft, fairways wide, and, well, it was time to fire away.
And fire away, they did. Of the 66 who started, 44 were in red numbers when play was halted, the field average was 70.55, and so easy was it that the treacherous par 4 18th had only forced 11 bogeys.
With such an aggressive frame of mind, the storylines were plentiful. But here are five to choose from:
1.) That’s why they are tops
How crisp did Kaymer, Westwood, and Donald play? Consider that in 10 holes they combined for a bogey-free 14 under. Kaymer and Donald each made five birdies, Westwood four, and if you want stress-free days, you get them by hitting greens like you’re Tiger Woods circa 2000.
Kaymer and Westwood each hit eight of 10 greens, Donald nine.
If there was one moment to sweat out, it came at the par 4 sixth when Kaymer, having birdied four of the first five holes, showed he was human when he not only was wide of the fairway, but long of the green. He was in a bunker, no less. So what did he do? He got it up-and-down with such nonchalance that it sort of explained right there why he’s rolling along and ranked No. 1.
2.) Head-shaking continues
Back when he demolished fields and won by double-digits, Woods attracted a SRO crowd. Based on Day 1 of this World Golf Championship, that’s still true, but it’s almost as if folks are waiting to see what sort of wild shot will come out of his arsenal to send him reeling.
Scott Dunlap counts himself among the many who are shaking their heads at this transformation that Woods has undergone. A PGA Tour veteran who played in tournaments when he and colleagues pretty much knew they had no chance against Woods, Dunlap was at Doral to catch up to an old friend, John McLaren, who caddies for Donald.
That’s why he watched the Kaymer, Westwood, Donald group, yet Dunlap offered a strong voice about Woods’ decision to change his swing.
As Kaymer birdied the par-5 eighth, to get to 5 under, Dunlap nodded his approval. “(Kaymer) looks as natural and un-thinking as Tiger Woods makes it look difficult with too much thinking.”
Mechanical. That is what Woods looks like to Dunlap, who can’t believe the change. “Tiger Woods is the only player ever who rated about a 9.5 in every category. No weaknesses. Who is arrogant enough to teach some ‘method’ to Tiger Woods and make him better?”
3.) Oh, and another notable visitor
The Kaymer, Westwood and Donald group also drew the interest of Lexi Thompson, the onetime junior phenom who is biding her time, just waiting for LPGA Tour playing opportunities.
She stood outside the ropes watching that marquee group play the par-3 fourth, but Thompson won’t be in attendance Friday. That’s because she’ll be headed west to try and Monday qualify for next week’s Founders Cup.
Told that it still seems hard to believe that she is in such limbo, a proven talent who can’t have membership, Thompson smiled and said, “It’s no big deal. It is what it is.”
Hey, she’s got the veteran’s cliche down pretty well.
4.) Not everyone went low
On a day when sub-par holes far outnumbered bogeys (205-102), some guys still managed to scowl.
Geoff Ogilvy, for instance. He pulled his second shot into the water at his first hole, the par-5 10th, made a double, and shot the worst of the nine full rounds that were recorded, a 76.
Anthony Kim is another. Then again, Kim seems to always be struggling these days, for some reason. He is again, sitting 4 over through just 13 holes.
Then there’s Y.E. Yang, a very popular pre-tournament wild-card, given the way he’s played the last two weeks. But Yang has yet to make a birdie, going 2 over for his 11 holes.
5.) Not a bad three-ball here, too
As good as Kaymer, Westwood and Donald were, there was another productive pairing going about their business just out of the media blitz, too.
When play was halted, Vijay Singh and Nick Watney were 5 under through 16 holes, while Adam Scott was 4 under. They had combined for an eagle (Singh at the par 5 first), 15 birdies, and three bogeys.
Of course, there wasn’t much time to talk about the great day of scoring, because Scott was among a large contingent of players rushing off to watch the Heat host the Lakers.