The second World Golf Championship of the year begins Thursday at Doral’s TPC Blue Monster. Here are 5 Things you need to know on the eve of the Cadillac Championship:
1. MCILROY’S MEA CULPA: Rory McIlroy made his first public appearance since walking off midway through his second round at the Honda Classic. The 23-year-old World No. 1 admitted that walking off the course was a mistake, one caused by both an aching tooth and a bruised ego.
“I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t the right thing to do,” he said. “No matter how bad I was playing, I should have stayed out there.”
McIlroy said his lower right wisdom tooth has been causing him pain for more than a year, and that he wore braces for six months in 2012 to relieve some of the pressure in his mouth.
“My tooth was bothering me, but it wasn’t bothering me enough to … quit,” he said. McIlroy also admit that he’s felt pressure to live up to the expectations that have come with his on-course success.
“I’ve been working really hard and not really getting much out of it,” he said. “That’s just been the frustrating thing, and that’s what happened. It was a buildup of high expectations from myself coming off … the back of such a great year last year, and wanting to continue that form into this year and not being able to do it. I just sort of let it all get to me.”
McIlroy will have all eyes on him again this week. He’ll be paired with the two players closest to him in the Official World Golf Ranking, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald, for the first two rounds. They tee off at 11:53 a.m. Thursday off Doral’s 10th tee.
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2. OUT OF THE BLUE: Tiger Woods also arrives at Doral after a forgettable week at the Honda Classic. He finished 37th after shooting 70-70-70-74 at PGA National’s Champion Course. He was beaten by both his weekend playing partners, 2012 PGA runner-up David Lynn, who shot 68 in the third round, and rookie Robert Streb, who shot 71 Sunday. Woods was 4 over in the final round despite an eagle at the last hole. He had just five birdies and that eagle in the final two rounds.
Woods has won the Cadillac Championship once at Doral (2007), as well as two victories at the regular Tour event that was held here before the WGC arrived (2006, ’05).
Woods’ recent victories have come after mediocre results. His victory at this year’s Farmers Insurance Open was preceded by a missed cut at Abu Dhabi. None of his three victories in 2012 were preceded by high finishes, either. He finished T-21 after an awful weekend at the U.S. Open, then won his next start, at the AT&T National. His Memorial win came after a 40th-place finish at the Players. And he withdrew from the final round of this event two weeks before winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his first PGA Tour victory since 2009.
Woods withdrew on the 12th hole of the final round of last year’s Cadillac because of tightness in his left Achilles tendon. “In the past, I may have tried to continue to play, but this time I decided to do what I thought was necessary,” he said afterward in a statement. He shot 9 under par for the first 54 holes, and was 3 over for his round when he walked in.
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3. ON THE RISE: Geoff Ogilvy earned an 11th-hour invitation to the Cadillac Championship with his runner-up finish at the Honda Classic. Ogilvy has had previous success here, winning in 2008 and finishing third the previous year.
He’d missed four consecutive cuts entering the Honda and had fallen to 79th in the world. Last week’s second-place was his best PGA Tour finish since September 2010. “It was the right course at the right time to kind of get me back into some form. As I said, I like it when par means something,” he said of the Honda.
Next on his to-do list? Qualify for the Masters. The OWGR’s top 50 on April 1 earn invitations to Augusta National. Ogilvy ended 2012 at 51st in the OWGR; the top 50 at season’s end also secured Masters berths.
“It’s been on my mind really all year,” said Ogilvy, who’s played every Masters since 2006.
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4. AIRING OUT THE LAUNDRY: Michael Thompson was immediately reminded of leaner times after his Honda Classic victory. Thompson wasn’t exempt into the Cadillac Championship until he won at PGA National, so he spent Monday at a laundromat to ensure he had clean clothes for his first World Golf Championship.
“That goes right back to my days on the Hooters Tour,” said Thompson, who was that tour’s player of the year in 2010. He followed that errand by watching replay of Sunday’s victory and having dinner with Bubba Watson.
Thompson had missed the cut in three of his first four starts this year and finished 78th in the other. He’d earned just one FedEx Cup point before winning the Honda. He’d broken par in just three of 10 rounds and had a 73.1 scoring average.
“I realize — and I’ve struggled with this all my career — that I just need to continue to believe in what I do and the way I play golf,” Thompson said. “It’s not pretty. My swing is not the most beautiful swing in the world. I hit it all over the place. But I’m a darned good putter, and that’s the one thing I really do believe in myself.”
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5. SUNSHINE STATE OF MIND: Matt Kuchar won the year’s first World Golf Championship, the Accenture Match Play, and arrives at a site where he’s had success. He’s finished eighth or better in all three Cadillac Championship appearances, highlighted by a third-place showing in his debut at this event in 2010.
“I’d say there’s a … comfort level with the grasses, with the Florida courses,” said Kuchar, a Florida native. “But I think the course knowledge only helps when you hit it where you want to hit it.”
Kuchar’s Accenture victory came less than a year after his win at the Players Championship. Now Kuchar is looking for his first major. His third-place finish at last year’s Masters was the best major finish of his career. He also was ninth at last year’s Open Championship.
“I’ve always thought you were supposed to take the appropriate steps to get to the next level,” Kuchar said. “You kind of take those little steps to get there.”