DORAL, Fla. – Before we commence with the bluster of world rankings and swing changes, global golf and the prelude to the season’s first major, let us stop and salute years of excellence.
For the 50th straight winter, the PGA Tour is stopping in at Doral’s Blue Monster.
Never is it mentioned in respectful tones with Pine Valley, Pebble Beach or Augusta National, but the Blue Monster deserves a lofty place in the pantheon of legendary courses to have hosted PGA Tour tournaments. If you judge a layout by those who’ve conquered it, then the Blue Monster can take a bow, for some of the names who’ve won here include Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Hubert Green, Tom Weiskopf, Raymond Floyd, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
No apologies necessary, Blue Monster. You’ve given us a Who’s Who list of champions and we should ask for nothing more of our stages.
And with that, let us introduce five storylines on the eve of the Cadillac Championship, the second World Golf Championship of the season:
1.) Familiar foes
Much has been made of the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson pairing, but could we stifle the hysteria for a second and make note of this: The third member of the group isn’t exactly Howie Hack from the seventh flight. The guy’s name is Graeme McDowell and all he’s done in three tournaments thus far this PGA Tour season is rack up three top 10s. What’s more, the reigning U.S. Open champ has closed his two stroke-play events with rounds of 62 (Hyundai) and 64 (Honda). In the UK book shops, where they have a better feel for golf wagering, McDowell and Woods are co-favorites (you’d wager $100 to make $165) ahead of Mickelson ($100 to make $185). Vegas is typical American parochialism and offers Woods at 12-11 a slight favorite head-to-head against Mickelson’s 15-11. Apparently, Vegas oddsmakers aren’t considering this tidbit: Since 2007, Woods and Mickelson have played in the same group eight times, with the lefthander having the lower score on six occasions, Woods once, with one tie.
2.) About those pairings
It’s not like tournament organizers pulled McDowell, Woods and Mickelson out of a hat. They just happened to fall into a pattern that makes perfect sense, given the big-tournament feel to this Cadillac Championship.
Officials chose to go off the world rankings for four groups on each side of the draw. Nos. 1, 2 and 3 (Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald) will be off the first tee, Nos. 4, 5, 6 (McDowell, Woods, Mickelson) and so on so that eight groups took care of the top 24 in the world order.
Actually, toss an asterisk in there.
That’s because No. 22 Tim Clark perhaps presented a bit of concern to officials. Still nursing a tender elbow, Clark withdrew at the last minute from the Accenture Match Play Championship and he hasn’t played since finishing tied for second at the Sony Open (Jan. 13-16). So as to not take a chance with Clark, officials put Nos. 23 (Louis Oosthuizen), 24 (Charl Schwartzel), and 25 (Edoardo Molinari) together.
Clark is tossed in with Thomas Aiken (91) and Kevin Streelman (159).
3.) New pitch man?
Miami is the most international city in the United States, which makes it a perfect home for this “world” golf event. With a massive Latin flavor here and Spanish being such a dominant language, in the past Sergio Garcia and Camilo Villegas have served as natural ambassadors to help connect with new fans.
With Garcia struggling to regain his game and sitting outside looking in at these WGCs and Villegas almost an afterthought given his recent woes, here’s a new crowd favorite: Jhonattan Vegas.
And guess what? The Venezuelan is excited about prospects that he could be a draw.
“I know there’s a huge community here in Miami,” said Vegas, who won the Bob Hope Classic back in January. “I really hope for them to come and support (the tournament). I know they have done it for Camilo here, so I really hope that we get ten times more than Camilo gets. That would be good.”
4.) View from the penthouse
Not that he’s bored with it, but Martin Kaymer has already been rated the world’s top player for 18 days now. He has no thoughts of hanging there for outrageous stretches like Tiger Woods (264 weeks at one stretch; 281 weeks at another); he only cares about playing well.
In fact, when asked what he thought last week when Lee Westwood could have moved to No. 1 with at least a third-place finish at the Honda, Kaymer laughed.
“I really don’t care. I’ve been No. 1 in the world at least seven days. No one can take it away from me,” the German said.
5.) Last man in
Do not think that the 69th and final name in the field is a true reflection of Rory Sabbatini’s chances at Doral. Matter of fact, the way he’s playing, his stock is as high as anyone else’s.
“It’s just phenomenal to be here. You want to be in these World Golf Championships,” said Sabbatini, who wasn’t qualified until he won last week’s Honda Classic.
Sabbatini already stands alone from the other 68 competitors on one front – he’s playing in his ninth consecutive tournament. But before you think that he added on this Cadillac Championship just for the financial gain (finishing 69th out of 69 competitors earns you $39,000), take note, had he not moved into the top 10 on the FedEx Cup standings to get into the field, Sabbatini would have played in Puerto Rico this week.
He’s also got the Transitions Championship on his dance card next week, “but then I think we (meaning wife Amy) might have to do a little conversing as to whether or not we are going to continue on to Bay Hill. My wife made me promise her that when I won, I’d take some time off.”