MIAMI (AP) – Anyone who has only watched or heard about PGA Tour events on the Blue Monster the last few years must have wondered if they were on the same course at Doral.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson engaged in a fabulous duel of birdies and eagles in 2005, which Woods won at 24 under par. A year later, Woods opened with a 64 and held on for a one-shot victory by posting a score of 20 under par.
The Blue Monster was looking more like Grover on Sesame Street.
“I haven’t played here in a while, but the last couple of years, I’ve seen 19 or 20 under win this golf tournament. I sure didn’t see it out there today,” Charles Howell III said Thursday after a 69.
Henrik Stenson had never played at Doral and wasn’t sure what to expect.
Maybe that was a good thing.
He wasn’t baffled by what some said – Tiger Woods included – were different breaks on the greens. He expected the wind that gusted up to 25 mph because he always heard it blew hard in south Florida.
And the CA Championship is now a World Golf Championship, and Stenson knows plenty about that. Only a month ago, he captured his first world title at the Accenture Match Play Championship.
After posting seven birdies, Stenson shot a 5-under 67 to share the first-round lead with Robert Allenby. Thomas Bjorn was another shot behind, with two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal and Aaron Baddeley joining Howell at 69.
It was tough. It was windy. There was rain. A mere 15 players in the 73-man field broke par.
And it could have been worse.
“The rain softened the greens a bit and that made it somehow a little easier on the greens to stop the ball,” Olazabal said. “If the wind blows like this and we don’t get any rain, it’s going to be a monster course.”
It sure felt like one to Woods, who took 32 putts on his way to a 71.
“Pathetic,” said Woods, who was pleased with everything about his game until he took out his putter. “I putt a lot by memory and what I’ve done here over the years. A couple of the putts did the exact opposite than what they used to do.”
This was all new to Stenson, who’s No. 5 in the world and sure looks the part.
“I can only see one thing standing between him being the world’s best player,” Bjorn said. “And that’s Tiger Woods.”
Woods looked as exasperated as he did Sunday after a 43 on the back nine at Bay Hill, even though he was only four shots out of the lead. He sure wasn’t alone.
A year ago when Doral featured sunshine and only a breeze, the cut was at 4-under 140.
There’s no cut in WGC events. There weren’t a lot of smiles, either.
Ernie Els was in the group at 70, although he was as frustrated as anyone leaving the course. Els hit the ball beautifully, but missed birdie putts of 5 feet at No. 15 and 6 feet on the 16th. After having to lay up on the 18th hole because of a drive into the rough, he hit wedge into about 6 feet and missed the par putt.
Then he had to wait for a television interview, and by then he was done talking. Instead, the Big Easy settled into a chair and quietly ate a cheeseburger in peace.
Mickelson closed with one of only two birdies on the 18th hole to shoot 77. Vijay Singh, coming off a victory last week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, went from the bunker into the water on the 18th for a double bogey to shoot 74.
It was tough off the tee, from the fairway, even on the green.
Stenson was in good shape for a solid par save on the third hole, standing over a 3-foot putt with his pants flapping in the wind. As he drew the putter back, he felt a gust over his shoulder and jerked the putter forward.
“It’s just patience. Don’t putt it before you feel you’re ready to do so,” he said.
Allenby also fought the gusts, but still managed to peel off seven birdies to continue a year that has produced good swings, just no wins.
“I just tried to hit three-quarter shots most of the way in and really stay in control with the shots that I hit,” Allenby said. “When it’s blowing this hard, it’s hard to walk in it, let alone try and stay still in it.”
Doral has a different spot on the calendar (it used to lead off the Florida swing) and a different name, but it was different greens that caused Woods fits. He birdied his first two holes after starting on No. 10 to get his name atop the leaderboard, but it was struggle from there. And he didn’t do himself any favors on the 18th, when his drive landed next to a palm tree and he had to chip out left-handed.
Stenson had no such problems.
“For me, it’s probably easier than for some of the other ones because I’ve never played here before,” Stenson said. “It’s always tricky when you have some memories of how the greens are going to slope and things like that.”