DORAL, Fla. – A round of applause, please, and a warm welcome to the newest visitor to the American pro golf landscape, Juvic Pagunsan.
What do you think of The Blue Monster here at the Doral Golf Resort & Spa?
“The wind too strong,” he said.
Then he laughed.
Oh, and the 18th. What do you think of the 467-yard closing hole with water all the way down the left?
“That’s the hardest hole. Too hard.”
And, yes, Pagunsan laughed again, and why not? His first-ever round of professional golf in the continental United States had not only resulted in a stellar 3-under 69, but it had come in brutal wind over a demanding golf course.
So, please, take a bow, Mr. Pagunsan, and feel comfortable in knowing that even experienced PGA Tour players and visitors to The Blue Monster concurred that it was a tough day.
“It’s exhausting playing in wind like this,” said Keegan Bradley, who also shot 69 to share fifth place, three off a lead set by Adam Scott and Jason Dufner.
Tiring and confounding, beguiling and challenging, the wind was all of that, but say this about it: It was consistent, at 20-30 miles per hour, and also because it blew similarly Tuesday and Wednesday during practice rounds.
“That made it a little easier to handle,” Johnson Wagner said. “Now, if it had come from a completely different direction, it would have been a different story.”
Wagner came home in 70, and while that only puts him into a share of 13th place, he might have been in line for a medal of some sort because he recorded one of two birdies at an 18th hole that had its teeth sharpened in vintage form. Of course, it took a fairway-splitting drive of 273 yards and a hybrid from 203 yards that set up a 10-foot birdie roll.
“Good caddie,” Wagner said, when asked how it is he birdied a hole that pretty much slapped the field senseless.
When the day was over and only 24 of the 74 players had broken par, Johnson and Bubba Watson had the only birdies at the par-4 18th, while 29 made bogey, 11 made double, and two recorded triples. The field stroke average of 4.743 easily made it the hardest hole, but on this day there was a true joy in starting at the 10th hole, rather than the first.
“If you bogey the 18th (as your ninth hole), it’s nice to go to the first hole and be able to get it right back,” Dufner said.
Ah, that strong east wind that enveloped Doral meant that the par 5 first was the pushovers of all pushovers, while the 18th, which runs parallel to No. 1, was a beast. How crazy a contrast did the holes present?
Consider that No. 1 is 529 yards, but routinely players reached with a driver, 8-iron, whereas on 18, at 467, was reached in two shots by only 14 of 74 players – an astounding 18.92 percent.
Furthermore, consider this: On a day when only two players birdied 18, there were 10 eagles at the first and a whopping 44 birdies and Johnson typified the day with the assortment of shots at the side-by-side holes. A hybrid into the par-4 18th, an 8-iron into the par-5 first.
Still not convinced that it was blowing ferociously into your face at the 18th? None other than Gary Woodland, he of the rocket fuel power, drove into the water and had to take a drop. And from 235 yards . . . he laid up?
“We couldn’t get there,” said caddie Jon Yarbrough.
Woodland couldn’t get there? That’s akin to saying Bill Gates couldn’t afford it, but hey, this was a wind to be respected.
It was also a wind capable of taking you to places you’ve never seen at Doral, places where you might discover water where you didn’t know water existed. Like wide left of the third fairway, which is where Phil Mickelson came to rest when his cut shot got caught by a strong right-to-left wind.
Now the bunkers down the left side are common landing areas for those who spray it wide, but Mickelson went even further left and barely stopped short of a creek. Wild, yet not as wild as Jonathan Byrd, because he found that creek and had to take a drop.
“Nope, didn’t know the creek was there,” Byrd said.
Then, to make matters worse, Byrd came up short and right and found water in front of the green, too.
Two water balls, six strokes, and Byrd’s day was off to a rough start, though he settled nicely and closed out his round in a fashion that has become typical for him. He drove it wide right at 18, laid up to 104 yards, and hit a wedge into 12 feet and slipped home the par-save.
“I did that in each of the final two rounds last year, too,” Byrd said. “It’s starting a trend.”
As always, a sturdy wind caused havoc at Doral and heartaches were plentiful. Perhaps none was worse than Darren Clarke’s as he stepped to the 18th tee at 1 under and promptly drove into the water left. He took a drop, then found the water with his next shot, the triple-bogey dropping him to 2 over.
“It was brutal,” Bradley said of the conditions, and to emphasize how fierce the wind blew, he didn’t think twice about laying up even though he had 237 yards into the green at the par 5 eighth.
“And it was the right move, too,” said Steve Hale, Bradley’s caddie.
Justin Rose, one of eight to shoot 69 and create the logjam at T-5, agreed that it was tough, “but Doral seems suited for the wind, for some reason and the guys know how to get around in it.”
Even a 33-year-old from the Phillipines who had never seen the place before this week.
“Very tough,” Pagunsan said. “But fun.”