Another change of course for wild season as Adam Scott, Jason Dufner take Doral lead

Friday March 9th, 2012
Sergio Garcia fell apart on the back nine, shooting a 44 coming in.
Fred Vuich/SI

DORAL, Fla. - And so the show continues in this magical golf season. Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines shot a three-under 69 on the so-called Blue Monster, trailing Adam Scott of Australia and the American Jason Dufner by three. The way things are going this year, Juvic will probably win this thing.

That is, the Cadillac Championship, the second WGC event in three weeks. Your father probably calls this stop by its old-timey name, Doral. The kids don't. Players from overseas in their 20s actually refer to "the WGC." They're buying into it! Tim Finchem should send them a text or something.

Last week, there was a Honda floating in the greenside pond on 18. This week, there are a pair of sporty Caddys treading water. The Florida Swing has begun with a Japan-Detroit back-to-back, one-two punch for a half-decade now. But don't put too much stock in the status quo. A year ago, did you know about Kyle Stanley? Keegan Bradley? Branden Grace? This is not your father's PGA Tour anymore. Things move fast. Anthony Kim's not in the field this week. Neither is Ryo Ishikawa. Or Jhonny Vegas. You remember them.

The Tour now is all fast-twitch. Rory McIlory is our new world No. 1, but on Thursday he shot 73. Who will be No. 1 by the end of the week? Maybe Rory. Maybe Lee Westwood. Maybe Luke Donald? Remember Phil Mickelson? He won at Pebble with a closing 64? Lordy, does that seem like a long time ago.

The threesome of Tiger Woods and Nick Watney and Sergio Garcia, three thirtysomethings, looked like old graybeards on Thursday, fighting their swings and the wind (but not each other -- this is golf, after all). Last year, Watney won this event. Last week, at the Honda, Tiger played what would have to be considered one of the 20 or so best rounds of his life, a 62 in a wind he hadn't seen. Last week, Sergio, by way of a charming Golf Channel interview with David Feherty shot in Borriol, Spain, continued a media makeover that makes you want to forget about the time at Doral when he stood on a green and -- oh, who cares anymore?

On Thursday, he went out in 31. You're not supposed to shoot 31s on the front nine of the so-called Blue Monster in a shifting wind, but Sergio, who won twice in Europe last year, is playing like a man who doesn't want to be left off another Ryder Cup team, as he was in 2010. But then he came home in... 44! Was he suddenly playing a high school match? Five straight bogeys beginning on 13, with a triple at the end with two in the water, followed by a warmish handshake with Tiger, a warmer one with Watney and a gracious five minutes with reporters. It made you want to completely forget about the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage when -- oh, who cares anymore? And how did he explain his crazy ying-and-yang round? The same way you would. Everything's going wrong, until everything's going round. He was smiling all the while.

Fast-twitch is Nick Watney, the man and the swing, and if you saw him win here last year you saw the future of golf. He killed it all week, rolled it end-over-end and his swing coach -- the mighty Butch Harmon, sounding like an old Chicago lyric -- said it was only the beginning. Maybe. It all depends. Can a guy get better and better and better? For a magical 10-year period, beginning in, let's call it, 1993, Tiger got better and better and better. But that's not the norm. 

On Thursday, Woods needed 10 more than he needed his last time out. When he came in he talked, seemingly in no rush to go anywhere, about how he couldn't figure out if the wind was helping or hurting or what. When you look at the 70 players in the field here, aside from Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson, Woods, at 36, is one of the game's elder statesmen. An elder statesman who can still play is a very, very cool thing to be. Tom Watson's had that role for years. Davis Love, in a different way, has had it, too. Vijay never showed much interest in it. Phil has, and it's made him a legend. Tiger can do it with retraining. But he can do it. And it will be great for golf if he does.

There were flashes of it yesterday. He hit it crazy right on 18, right off the cart path, in the old Mark McCumber pines, on a sidehill lie, his ball sitting down in the damp Bermuda rough. Seven players out of 10 are going to pitch out from there. Tiger smashed what looked to be a four-iron -- remember four-irons? -- and got it nearly to the front edge.

He's owned the Blue Monster. More than Greg Norman. More than Raymond Floyd. More than Nicklaus and Ernie Els and Phil. "We've got, what, seven more rounds on it?" Woods asked yesterday. Seven more WGC-Cadillac Championship rounds before Gil Hanse, the Olympic golf-course architect, comes in and makes renovations with Donald Trump, the new Doral owner, checking it all out. Woods sounded wistful. It was great. His tone said, "Enjoy it while you can." The whole thing.

 

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