WGC-Cadillac leaderboard full of top names

Graeme McDowell acknowledges Thursday's crowd after putting on No. 18th during the first round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Graeme McDowell acknowledges Thursday's crowd after putting on No. 18th during the first round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

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5:08:01 AM ET. 04/18/2014




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— Snow greeted them two weeks ago. A week ago? It was a bitter cold northwest wind. But Thursday? Sunshine, glorious sunshine, so toasty warm and so comfortable and cozy that it was no shock to look up at the scoreboards and see that a proverbial birdie festival had broken out at the venerable Blue Monster.

One almost expected The Donald to jam the helicopter in reverse and get some massive fans turned on so the course had a little bit of defense.

Fact is, “it was very benign and you don’t get the golf course this benign this often,” said Graeme McDowell, who was one of 47 players to shoot 6-under 66.

Forty-seven?

Actually, we kid – but just a little. Not about McDowell, because he showed that not all golfers from Northern Ireland are struggling, and indeed he tossed down a bogey-free 66. But only five were tied for the lead, McDowell joined by an all-star cast of characters named Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, and Freddie Jacobson.

They don’t have to look far for company, however, because Phil Mickelson and three other stalwarts – Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Peter Hanson – shot 67, and one could safely say that all six who shot 68 (Keegan Bradley, Ian Poulter, Bo Van Pelt, Dustin Johnson, Charles Howell, and Justin Rose) are notable names.

Crunch it all and what you have is this: Of the top 15 names on the leaderboard at the WGC Cadillac Championship, 13 are ranked within the top 25 in the world order, so clearly it was a day of smiles and sunshine, eh?

Ah, not quite, and the fact that the back door of the villa that doubles as a scoring area here at Trump Doral got plenty of use speaks volumes for the reality that not everyone enjoyed the first-round warmth of this World Golf Championship.

Even Johnson couldn’t enjoy the merits of his 68, not after finishing double-bogey, bogey. And mixed into the parade of red numbers were enough sad faces to give some indication that the Blue Monster provided a little bit of fright.

Padraig Harrington, for instance, birdied the par-5 first hole – the easiest on the course – but never made another as he shot 76. Martin Kaymer was the only one of 65 entrants who failed to make a birdie. And just a few weeks removed from his breakthrough victory at Riviera, John Merrick hit his second shot in the water at 18, made a triple-bogey and shot 75.

Ernie Els shot 73, which on this day was well above the field average (70.754), but he wasn’t alone. Lee Westwood was there, too, and so was Rory McIlroy, who is not only the No. 1 golfer in the world but also the No. 1 mystery.

Curious, curious stuff, this good day/bad day stuff, though it really made sense to Mickelson.

Wind? As easy as it could be.

But greens? Very firm.

Rough? Up in spots and quite the challenge.

Add it all together and “I would expect a huge discrepancy in scores,” said the lefthander — and that’s exactly what we got.

But given that it’s the annual eclectic gathering here at Doral, there is always the discovery worth examining. Hello there, Michael Hendry.

A 33-year-old from New Zealand, he is here by virtue of finishing second on the Australasia money list in 2012, a onetime cricket player who didn’t turn to professional golf until he was 25. He’s played mostly in Australia and New Zealand, though in 2010 he gave Q School a try. Made it to the final stage, too, and earned Nationwide Tour status.

Thing is, he didn’t have the funds to support his travel, so Hendry found a better tour closer to home.

Last Sunday while you were focused on the Honda Classic and wondering how McIlroy’s wisdom teeth were doing, Hendry was winning the New Zealand PGA.

Next day, the former batsman left Auckland, flew to Los Angeles, then continued on to Miami. By the wonder of time zones, Hendry left on a Monday and arrived on a Monday, so he was already ahead of the game.

“I’ve really enjoyed myself so far,” said Hendry, who ran off three consecutive birdies starting at the par-4 fifth and was atop the leaderboard.

Then again, “I didn’t get to see it,” said the personable Kiwi.

Leaderboards missing at key points, the tournament continued, but Hendry’s birdie streak didn’t.

He bogeyed the soft, par-5 eighth when his third shot spun off the green and almost into the hazard, then he really hit a wall at the close. Having birdied the par-4 16th to get back to 3-under, Hendry drove it wide left, could only hack it out, then couldn’t get it up-and-down from a greenside bunker.

At 18, he got bit by the monster, pulling his drive low and left and into the water. Worse, he took a drop and then from 233 yards pulled another shot into the water. Welcome to Doral, Mr. Hendry, though he salvaged a double-bogey when he slam-dunked a 35-footer, so not all was lost.

At least, he could see things that way, because he’s new to all of this. “I’m probably the only guy in the field who hasn’t played in one of these (WGCs),” said Hendry, though he wasn’t quite on target. Four others (Michael Thompson, John Merrick, John Huh, and Scott Jamieson) are also making their debuts.

Of course, none of them have traveled as far as Hendry, who is so new to the scene that he didn’t know about the back door out of the scorer’s villa, an escape route that was only needed minimally on this day.

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