Doral had just about everything, it seemed. Low scores. An all-star leaderboard. Birdies and eagles galore. Chip-ins and holed bunker shots. And the most important thing, Tiger Woods as the winner. There was even the bizarre happening Saturday when Tiger’s ball disappeared into a palm tree at the 17th hole. NBC cameras were all over the freak occurrence and luckily, Tiger was able to identify the ball in the tree as his and take a penalty drop instead of having to return to the tee for a lost ball. Even better, the next day NBC ran a clip showing a fan who climbed the tree to retrieve Tiger’s ball and held the ball up for the cameras to see.
“He should get that autographed,” quipped NBC analyst Johnny Miller. “That’d probably be tougher than climbing the tree.”
Right again, Johnny. It was an upbeat week for golf. The only thing missing at Doral, pardon my nitpicking, was an exciting finish. After three rounds of optimal scoring conditions, the wind kicked up a bit. More important, the greens got firm as bricks and the pins were tucked in nasty places. In other words, everything that made the first three rounds so dramatic and exciting and the leaderboard so star-studded went out the window. Three days of birdie-fest morphed into a small U.S. Open for the final round. Birdies were hard to come by. The leaders played a war of attrition. Tiger showed off his short game and made a lot of pars.
Interesting, yes. Thrilling, no.
My theory is that easier scoring conditions favor the best players. You get in a major championship where scores are low, and who does well? The best players in the world. You get in a major, or any tournament where the course is so difficult that birdies are more like accidents and skill is equalized, and that’s when you get winners you don’t expect.
Nobody is complaining about this outcome. Tiger has been the best player of his era and probably will reclaim the No. 1 world ranking at some point this year, maybe sooner than you think. But it’s always more fun to watch golf when it’s like the back nine Sunday at Augusta — a mix of birdies and eagles and doubles — than when it’s a mind-numbing stretch of two-putt pars and par saves and bogeys. This is why the Masters is usually great spectating and why the U.S. Open usually isn’t.
I’m not sure who did what to the setup Sunday at Doral’s Blue Monster course but it certainly appeared designed to thwart the low scores of the first three days. Why? It was already way too late to protect par and besides, the public doesn’t care about that, anyway.
Then again, the public doesn’t care about the dull finish, either. Tiger won. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.
The short game
In a week of low scores, Adam Scott’s 64 and Rory McIlroy’s 65 in the final round didn’t get their due. Conditions were so much more difficult Sunday, those numbers were the equivalent of at least three shots lower than that, more like a 61 and a 62. Some serious good golf… Given the killer leaderboard, don’t you wonder if new resort owner Donald Trump should’ve had second thoughts about blowing up the Blue Monster and going for the showy re-do? Hard to improve on that tournament. Hopefully, architect Gil Hanse does what he does best and doesn’t have to bow to pressure from above to make the course ridiculous. All I’m saying is, there had better not be a waterfall on the finished product… Doral wouldn’t be a bad site for the other WGC event, the World Match Play. I’d like to see some guys come to the dreaded 18th with the match all square. We’d see some memorable finishes there… I can’t believe a few self-appointed experts are critical of Steve Stricker helping Tiger with his putting. You might as well rip a guy for not being an a*****e… FYI, Robert Garrigus finished 65th last week, which was dead last. He earned $45,500. Luke Guthrie tied for 18th in the other tour event in Puerto Rico, winning $44,100… Lee Westwood, a former No. 1, dropped out of the top 10 in the world rankings for the first time in more than three years… Caroline Wozniacki, best friend of Rory McIlroy, tweeted Monday morning that she’d just experienced a pretty big earthquake, a 5.1. Fill in your own punch line, people.
The Van Cynical Mailbag
(Send your Mailbag question to my Twitter account on any given Monday)
Gary, do you agree with the hypothesis that Tour players let Tiger win WGCs because they don’t want to be pictured with the trophies?
–Pete Carney via Twitter
Wait, those are trophies, Pete? I thought those were urns for the players to have their ashes buried in someday. Your hypothesis may have merit.
Would Tiger Woods still have won the Doral tournament if he hadn’t gotten a putting tip from Steve Stricker?
–BadgerDave via email
That was maybe the best four rounds of putting Tiger has had since the 2008 U.S. Open. So I’ll go with no, without the Strick tips, he doesn’t win. Golf is all about putting.
Should I go all in on Tiger to win the Masters or just bet half of my house?
–Doug via email
No doubt TW will be the favorite now. He probably was going to be, anyway, by default. Yup, Tiger’s a sure thing to win this Masters. Just like he was a mortal lock to win it last year after he won at Bay Hill, just like he was an absolute cinch to win the U.S. Open after his win at Memorial. Golf is just so very predictable. Bet the whole house… unless you’re chicken.
What’s the real story behind Rory’s struggles? Is it the girlfriend?
–LAPhil via email
Rory’s takeaway has been off. I’m not clear whether that’s due to time off or him trying a new swing move, but as you could see Sunday, it’s all coming together for him now. Rory’s whole life has been like a tossed salad—he’s got a girlfriend, a new house in south Florida, a new $250 million endorsement deal and all the fame and pressure that comes with it, plus new clubs and a new ball. That’s a lot of variables all at once. He’s going to need some time to soak it all in. It’s not the girlfriend… yet.