DORAL, Fla. – Courtesy of ShotLink, the PGA Tour’s statistical source, data have been gathered on all aspects of what took place at the new and improved Blue Monster, and in coming days, weeks, and months, it will be digested. Where balls landed on greens, how many players hit particular fairways, how many converted specific bunker shots . . . it will be digested to figure out where tweaks are necessary and how best to go about them.
However, all that is for others to decide. What we have right now are a number of ways to slice and dice and prove that this was a demanding test, something you never could say about the crown jewel of the Trump National Doral resort. The only challenge for the PGA Tour crew in previous years was fighting boredom, because they made so many automatic birdies and had so few shots that required strategy.
But this time around? Cheers to architect Gil Hanse and design partner Jim Wagner, who not only did what owner Donald Trump wanted – they toughened up the course – but they did it tastefully and cleanly so that aesthetically it is far superior to what it was.
Demanding? No question.
Penal? Of course, it’s in Florida, which has cornered the market on water hazards. For those of us who grew up in areas such as the Northeast with tree-lined fairways and tight doglegs, Florida golf is another galaxy, just as Arizona golf is a shock to our senses. Let’s face it: mixing water with wind is wonderful, if you’re a sailor; if you’re a golfer, it can be volatile. That’s why when a strong wind blew Thursday and a ferocious gale-like force arrived Friday, we had a Doral tournament unlike any of the others since the big boys started playing there in 1962.
No one would deny that in 35-mph wind gusts such as what we had Friday, the Blue Monster isn’t easy. But it wasn’t impossible and it was fair, as Jonas Blixt proved by making 18 consecutive pars or Graeme McDowell showed by shooting 1-under 71.
Changes will be made, most definitely to the third green and possibly to the fourth. The PGA Tour staff would not deny that had they been given a mulligan or two, different tees would have been used. But to get caught up in the moaning and groaning – something you get every week with the best players in the world, by the way – is to overlook how incredibly the Blue Monster has been improved.
And wasn’t that the goal at the outset?
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Here’s one way to measure just how tough the Blue Monster played. These are not numbers touring professionals are used to slapping down on the scorecard, but there were 7s, 8s, 9s and even an 11 – and by quality golfers, no less.
- The 7s: Steve Stricker, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, and Zach Johnson each had two, as did Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Dawie van der Walt. The list of those who recorded at least one 7 stretches another 28 names, including stalwarts such as Jim Furyk, Hunter Mahan, Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler, Harris English, Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth, Ernie Els, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, and Martin Kaymer.
- The 8s: Stricker (at the eighth) and Spieth (the 14th).
- The 9s: Garcia (the 10th).
- The 11: Aussie Brett Rumford, who had three water balls off of his first tee, the par-5 10th, and was 6 over one hole into the championship.
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Elsewhere, the scoring oddities after four grueling days over the newest Trump toy were plentiful. Some of the highlights:
• GUESS IT IS DIFFERENT: You only had to play the first hole to realize that Hanse and Wagner had given you a different Blue Monster. It used to be that the guys chalked up at least a birdie or eagle at the first hole, which measured barely over 500 yards, and then went on their merry way.
At last year’s Cadillac Championship, the hole played to a field average of 4.412, with nine eagles, 141 birdies and just six bogeys. This year the field average was 4.768, with just two eagles and 97 birdies, while the bogeys increased to 36, including a pair of doubles.
• GO FIGURE: One of the easiest holes was the par-5 first (it ranked 17th, behind only the par-5 eighth), yet Billy Horschel bogeyed it each day.
• ANOTHER INDICATOR: Only three players – Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Brendon de Jonge – birdied the first hole all four days.
• LOOK, MA, NO DOUBLES: Usually this wouldn’t be something you would point out after a PGA Tour tournament, but the list of players who made no worse than a bogey was slim. To wit: Bubba Watson, Jamie Donaldson, Richard Sterne, Kevin Streelman and McDowell.
• EARLY WOES: Phil Mickelson played Nos. 3 and 4 in 6 over, but that pales in comparison to Victor Dubuisson, who went 11 over at Nos. 2-5.
• HARD? NOT TO ME: Although the long par-3 fourth confounded many, it was nice to the eventual winner, Patrick Reed, and Richard Sterne, both of whom played it in 2 under.
• YES, HARD: Thongchai Jaidee went 5 over at the fourth hole, and Jason Dufner, Luke Donald, Jim Furyk, Jin Jeong and Dubuisson were 4 over.
• A BRIGHT SPOT: Mickelson was the only one to birdie 16, 17 and 18 consecutively.
• BUT NOT TO HIM: As for those who had big hiccups at 16-17-18 in succession, Sterne had it roughest. He closed out his third round going bogey, bogey, double.
• IF HE COULD ONLY SELL THE RECIPE: While formidable names such as Donald and Keegan Bradley went 5 over at the par-4 third, and Martin Kaymer and Dubuisson were 4 over, Bill Haas has to be wondering what all the fuss was about. He played the hole in 3 under.
• NOT HIS GARDEN SPOT: Adam Scott was 8 over at the par-3 13th and par-4 14th.
• IT GOT THEM, TOO: Once a truly pedestrian hole, the revamped 14th bent left and brought water into play down the left. Ian Poulter played it in 5 over, and Scott, Stricker and Peter Uihlein were 4 over.
• UNLUCKY 13: Days before the competition began, Stricker raved about the changes to the green at the long par-3 13th, saying it was far more receptive than it had always been. Proving his impression was accurate, Stricker made four pars there. Others weren’t so lucky, including Tiger Woods, who made four bogeys. Simpson and Kaymer also played it in 4 over, and Darren Fichardt went 5 over.
• NOT MANY MISTAKES: Miguel Angel Jimenez actually made fewer bogeys (10) than the winner Patrick Reed (12). He just couldn’t keep up with the sub-par holes as Jimenez made 11 birdies to Reed’s 15 birdies and an eagle.
• IT WAS A GOOD FIT: Stenson and Fichardt were the only players to make birdie each round at the par-5 eighth.
• BUT THIS WASN’T: Aphibarnrat made two doubles and a triple at the par-5 10th.