Johnson takes advantage of ideal day at Doral
DORAL, Fla. – Now that’s southern Florida in March.
Pulsating sunshine, balmy wind, green golf courses and the PGA Tour at the Blue Monster.
Put it all together and you had a perfect day to hold the third round of the Cadillac Championship. With such an idyllic setting, there’s no surprise that we had brilliant scoring – Dustin Johnson with a 65, Luke Donald at 66 – and a leaderboard reflective of the times – six internationals and four Americans setting the pace.
Five storylines from the action:
1) Ali vs. Frazier it wasn’t
At times, it was like watching a heavyweight battle between two former champs 10 years past their prime. Epic, it wasn’t. But somehow, their personalities carry even a pedestrian match-up to an entertaining level.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson simply provide theater – even if it’s by not playing well.
Such was the case in Round 3 when for a third straight day the behemoths went off in the same pairings. And just as the play had been Thursday and Friday, it was spotty at best. Nowhere was it more entertaining than at the par-4 third, a challenging dog-leg right that wraps around a huge lake. After Woods hooked his 3-wood into rough, Mickelson chose driver and promptly hit his tee ball into the water.
Dropping from 221 yards, the lefthander laced a brilliant shot to 12 feet, then sat and watched Woods first balloon his approach from 184 yards, then chunk his pitch shot. Crazy stuff that left folks shaking their heads, but seconds later the crowd had a reason to cheer.
First, Woods curled in a 30-footer to save par, then Mickelson followed him into the hole for an incredible up-and-down.
Even the caddies had to shake their heads and laugh.
“The hole is halved with fours, the match remains all square,” said Steve Williams, Woods’ caddie, as he moved to the fourth tee..
There was another delightful exchange at the par-4 seventh when Woods slammed a brilliant approach from 162 yards to 6 feet and Mickelson pulled his wedge 128 yards into a greenside bunker. With a flair for the dramatic, Mickelson holed his bunker shot for birdie, then Woods answered it with a pure roll.
Though Mickelson also birdied the eighth and ninth to turn in 33, it was Woods (70) who posted the lower score, thanks to the left-hander’s back-nine 39.
Fun that it may have been, no one will ever say it was classic stuff. Not when Woods hit five of 14 fairways and Mickelson just four. Not when Mickelson hit just eight green and Woods required 28 putts.
And the best part? It was over in time to watch the leaders go off.
2) A tough finish arrives
For two days, there wasn’t a lot of danger in playing the famed 18th hole at the Blue Monster. On a soft and windless Thursday it played to a field average of 4.212. The 467-yard hole played dead downwind Friday and yielded an average of just over par, 4.076.
Ah, but with the wind switching back and forth late in the afternoon, the 18th proved a bit of a beast. The last 14 players went a cumulative 5 over on the hole, with only Rory McIlroy able to make birdie.
Nick Watney was hurt the most, for he went to the 18th tee tied for the lead, only to pull his drive slightly. It never truly got airborne and splashed.
“I missed it a bit,” Watney said, shaking his head. “I had the whole world to the right. Just a horrible shot.”
After the drop, Watney had a difficult shot from 219 yards, one that he deposited in a front right bunker. He wound up making double to drop into a share of second, two behind Dustin Johnson.
Johnson managed to finish off his round of 7-under 65 with a par at 18, but Watney wasn’t the only one who couldn’t do likewise. Luke Donald bogeyed the hole to also fall to 11 under, while Franceso Molinari and Hunter Mahan both made bogey to drop to 10 under.
Martin Laird, just three off the lead when he played 18, made bogey and now is four back.
For the day, the field made 21 bogeys and two doubles at 18, when there had only been 23 bogeys and six doubles combined for Rounds 1 and 2.
3) Good thing he didn’t call in sick
Similar to those general managers who sometimes say the best trades are the ones they don’t make, Louis Oosthuizen may profit handsomely by his decision not to withdraw from the tournament.
He was very close to doing so Saturday morning, because after battling nose, throat and eye problems all week, the British Open champion could barely see. Oosthuizen took a photo of himself and texted it to his agent, Chubby Chandler, suggesting he withdraw. The decision was then made to ice the eyes, apply drops, and go to the range “to see if I could make proper contact.”
His decision to play proved a good one, because the South African birdied five of his first seven holes, shot 5-under 67 and roared up the leaderboard to get into a share of 16th.
4) There’s a gift for players at the first tee
Few tournament stops on the PGA Tour offer a softer start than the Blue Monster. At 529 yards, No. 1 simply is a long par 4 that is still called a par 5.
That probably makes the U.S. Golf Association cringe, but what the heck. The boys certainly won’t complain, especially on a day like Round 3 when warm temperatures and gentle breezes presented ideal conditions.
How easy did they make it look? Of the 66 players in the field, they recorded two eagles, 41 birdies, 22 pars and just one lone bogey – that by Kyung-tae Kim.
The field average was 4.333.
5) But he thinks differently about the 10th
And on the third day, Geoff Ogilvy finally figured out the 560-yard par-5 10th.
Well, not exactly “figured it out,” because the Aussie did need to curl home a 50-foot putt to save par. For a third straight day, Ogilvy had hit a ball in the water at the big, sweeping dogleg left guarded by a lake all the way down the left. But whereas he had made double-bogey Thursday and triple-bogey Friday, this time the Aussie scrambled nicely.
At 5-over 221, Ogilvy is tied for 58th, a far cry from 2008 when he played 72 holes here with just one bogey to win by one.