Blue Monster Attacks Again in What May be Final Time for PGA Tour
DORAL, Fla.—The nickname doesn't lie. The Blue Monster lives and yes, its teeth are still sharp.
Here's how tough Doral's Blue Course played Sunday when the normal Gulf breezes kicked up and had the flags around the 18th green luxury boxes flapping all afternoon: Adam Scott started the final round three shots back, hit two balls into the water and made two double bogeys, shanked a bunker shot … and still won the Cadillac Championship.
This might be Doral's Last Stand as a PGA Tour stop, since Cadillac's sponsorship has expired, which means it might be Donald Trump's Last Stand as the owner of a resort that hosts a PGA Tour stop.
Sunday's wild finish that featured at least one-four way tie for the lead and had six big names circling the lead like vultures showed why Doral needs to be a PGA Tour event and why the PGA Tour needs to play an event at Doral.
You can say what you want about the latest iteration of the Blue Monster, redesigned by Gil Hanse and toughened at Trump's urging. It looks way too difficult for the resort chop who paid $450 and had to take a forecaddie and I have to admit I'm not a fan but it's a pretty exciting canvas for the world's best players.
These guys are good, the slogan says, and it takes a beast like Doral Blue to show just how good.
The Blue Course isn't anything like Augusta National, site of next month's Masters, but it does have one trait in common: There's a fine line between a good shot and a disaster at both tracks. Augusta has water that comes into play on five of its final eight holes. At Doral, there's water, water, everywhere. So birdies and eagles are possible and, just like Augusta, so are bogeys and doubles. That makes for spectacle and that makes for exciting golf and, grudgingly, good TV.
The tee at Augusta's par-12th, where fickle winds circle above Rae's Creek, is the place that makes contenders pucker. At Doral, it's the 18th tee, where you've got a chance to find water on the tee ball—as Danny Willet did when he came to the 72nd hole just one shot behind Scott—and on the second shot.
Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters champ and two-time runnerup at Doral, was also one stroke back when he came to 18. He stood and looked at the distant fairway. There's water left, water in front to carry and palm trees on the right. He addressed his ball. He back off. He addressed it again. He backed off again. Hitting this tee shot is as fun as wrangling cobras.
Just what were you thinking there, Bubba? Watson pondered the question when he met with a few writers and let a full ten seconds elapse before he answered.
"I'm gonna go with this," he said with a grin, "I'm gonna go with this. I'm just a head case. If I say what I'm really thinking, I'll get ripped. So I'll go with that."
The 18th hole puts the Monster into the Blue Monster, in other words.
The Monster got leader Rory McIlroy. His three-shot lead evaporated after the front nine and he shot 74, falling back to third. Dustin Johnson, playing in the final twosome with McIlroy, started the back nine with a double-double-bogey-double stretch and he later birdied the 16th just to avoid the shame-walk of shooting 80. He posted 79.
Phil Mickelson was in the mix all the way but suffered a setback at the par-5 10th. It should be a birdie hole for a power player like him but he lost his drive to the left, in the lake, and made a bogey that felt more like a double.
The Blue Course is a tough test and with firm conditions and wind, it was a dangerous place. As shown even by the winner.
Scott made doubles at the third and fifth holes. At the third, he was aiming left of the green and missed it right ... splash. At the fifth, he hit what he thought was a good approach. "It was too good, I guess," said Scott, who was shocked when it flew the green, bounced hard and rolled into the water behind the green.
The Monster had just landed a couple of body blows and meanwhile, McIlroy was playing steady golf. Scott was suddenly six shots back on a course that was like trying to ride a bucking bronco.
"After the second double, winning was far from my mind," Scott said. "At that point, I'm just trying to get some traction to not shoot 80, like you could easily do on a day like this."
Not to pick on anyone, but Anirban Lahiri was five under par the first 54 holes. He shot 79 in Sunday's breeze. Danny Lee shot 80. So did reigning British Open champ Zach Johnson. Well, even after some much-publicized tweaking to the course that was supposed to make it fairer for shorter hitters and not such an advantage for bigger hitters, it was still mostly big hitters and big names atop the leaderboard.
J.B. Holmes posted 80 and he is a big hitter.
Saturday, only one player birdied the 17th hole and that was with very little wind. Sunday, only two players birdied the 18th.
And then there's President Cupper Steven Bowditch of Australia. He had a rough week, never breaking 80 and finishing at 37 over par. The Blue Monster is not the place to play when your game is amiss. But there's guaranteed money and world ranking points so kudos to Bowditch for gutting it out. It is not fun to finish 47 shots back.
In fact, the only fun to be had at the Blue Monster is watching the world's best players try to survive it. The PGA Tour stops where -25 is the winning score of a birdie-fest can be fun, too, but the difference here is that the Blue Monster usually identifies the stud-liest player of the week.
It's Strike Your Ball Or Die at Doral and its list of winners, even before it became a World Golf Championship, has no weak links. In recent years, it has included Tier Woods, Justin Rose, Ernie Els, Mickelson and Geoff Ogilvy. Back when it was a regular tour stop (and the course went through a couple of alterations), the winners included Woods, of course; and superior iron players such as Scott Hoch, Joe Durant, Steve Elkington and Nick Faldo. Throw in Greg Norman, Raymond Floyd, Lanny Wadkins, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf and Andy Bean and … well, you get the idea. Few courses have a pedigree of victors like Doral does.
Few courses ask so as much of a player as the Blue Course. Frankly, it's a better course for a World Golf Championship than it is for a resort guest.
"You have this picture in your mind that you've got to play so beautifully to win," Scott said. "Sometimes, especially at a course like this in wind like this, it can't be that pretty unless you play the round of your life. It was hard for everyone out there.
"This course demands such precision on a day like this because the risk of hitting it into a good spot is almost too much because the penalty is water and you drop 200 yards back and then you don't have a good option."
This makes back-to-back wins for Scott, who won last week’s Honda Classic, and the state of his game makes him one of the leading contenders at the Masters. Although Scott swears that Watson, your Northern Trust Open champion, is playing so well that he should still be the favorite.
Doral's Blue Course is probably not the favorite track of any tour player. Asked his reaction to the possibility of the tour leaving Doral next year, Watson remained in a rare diplomatic mode.
"Wherever it's played," he said, "I just want to be in the field."
Doral has delivered good winners since Billy Casper won the first Doral Country Club Open Invitational in 1962. Sunday, it delivered a thrilling finish that may have more thrills, chills and spills than any other event this year. It’s a big stage and, like it or not, it’s a darned good one.
Doral should return to the tour schedule next year. That would also mean more exposure for owner Donald Trump. Depending on what happens between now and November, we might already be used to that.