DORAL, Fla. – There was hype. There was great fury. And then there was bluster.
Standard fare in this year of transition at Trump National Doral, sure, but Thursday afternoon it had little to do with The Donald and everything to do with Mother Nature. Sweeping across from west to east, an intense line of thunderstorms – severe enough to ignite isolated tornadoes – put an emphatic halt to first-round play in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Play began at 11 a.m. in oppressive humidity and brisk winds and it didn’t take a meteorologist to know there was nasty stuff coming. Still, officials got in nearly 3 1/2 hours of play before the horn had to sound at 2:22 p.m. It wasn’t nearly enough of a sample to offer an assessment of the totally revamped Blue Monster, but before play resumed at 4:45 p.m., there had been a few snippets worth relaying:
• Worst hole: As for starting poorly, the prize has to go to Aussie Brett Rumford. He hit not one, not two, but three drives into the water at his first hole, the par-5 10th. When finally on his fourth drive Rumford got it safely on land, he played the 608-yard hole in five strokes – unfortunately with all the penalties it translated into an 11. That’s right, an 11. One hole, 6-over. And how was your tournament?
• Worst shot: It was on the third hole here years ago when Henrik Stenson stripped to his boxers to play a shot out of water. It’s difficult to imagine, however, that Stenson wasn’t feeling more naked when he played a second shot while paired with Tiger Woods and Adam Scott. The media, the crowd, the TV cameras . . . everyone saw, no one believed. But here’s the truth: Stenson shanked one sideways. He had just 118 yards left for his approach into the 465-yarder, but it went dead right into a bush that perhaps had never before been in play at this hole for a PGA Tour pro. Stenson re-dropped and played his fourth shot from the same spot, but made double-bogey.
• Positive proof, Part I: Yes, Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner – the architects hired by Donald Trump to toughen up The Blue Monster – have done their job. It only took a a few hours to prove that. Heck, at the first hole alone there were three bogeys, with 21 players still to play, and in the entire first round last year there was just one bogey. The hole has been lengthened to about 572 yards and there’s a severe run-off to the right of the green where errant shots are likely to end up in the water.
• Positive proof, Part II: When play came to a halt, the field average was 74.19, which is about half-a stroke higher than each of the last four tournaments.
• Positive proof, Part III: Keegan Bradley was among marquee names, paired with Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer, playing directly behind the dynamic twosome of Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy. But for all that firepower, there was not an easy route along the 18th hole for one of them. McIlroy, coming off of a bogey at 17, drove into the water left and made bogey. Mickelson found the fairway, but his second shot came up shot and rolled back into the water, leading to bogey. Bradley did make par, but it required a deft two-putt from about 45 feet, while Oosthuizen’s par came the hard way – a wild drive into trees right, a punch-out, then an up-and-down from about 100 yards. Kaymer? His score took a jolt when he hit his second shot long left and into water, then failed to get it up-and-down after a drop. He went to 2-over with the double-bogey.
• So, a quick assessment: On the way into the dining area to wait out the storm, Bradley confirmed that The Donald had what he wanted, a tougher test. Much of it had to do with the south, southwest winds, “but (then again), every wind is tough out here when it’s blowing like this,” said Bradley. “The greens are really firm and really fast. They’re a little quicker than they’ve been, but we’re ready for that. It’s just a tough course.”