It’s a completely different golf course. Most of the holes are foreign to the players who are trying to navigate them.
Yet, there is still one thing that remains nearly the same for those that have walked the Blue Monster course at Trump National Doral before — the actual Blue Monster. The namesake for the course is the iconic 18th hole which forces players to find a narrow strip of fairway in order to properly attack the pin.
Staring down the 471-yard par-4 is daunting, as you try to avoid the water that slowly expands from a stream near the tee into a massive pond to the left of the fairway. It is about 290 yards to carry the water and safely reach the fairway, but many players have elected not to press their luck.
“Eighteen is definitely playing better,” Justin Rose said. “You have to still commit to the tee shot, the tee shot is very intimidating.”
In the seven years since the WGC-Cadillac Championship was moved to Doral, the 18th hole has been the toughest by a wide margin. There have been only 154 birdies on the hole in those seven years and players have scored nearly five times as many bogeys or worse in that period.
When Rose won the 2012 title at the old Blue Monster, the 18th played more than a half-stroke over par, the second-toughest it’s been since the tournament moved to Doral. This year, the 18th has fallen victim to the tough conditions on Thursday and Friday, which drove scoring up and pushed the 18th to only the fifth-toughest hole on the course this week.
There were just a couple of minor alterations made to the hole during the redesign process, but none the average fan would be able to detect. The fairway was raised and the green was shifted closer to the water and restructured, taking away a large bowl on the left side. However, the biggest change may be the trees that now line the right side because that forces players to be more accurate off the tee.
Bill Haas said on the previous course a player could leave the ball right of the fairway and still have a good shot at earning a birdie putt. The new trees on the right add a stiffer penalty, one Haas had to pay Saturday when his tee shot landed close to the trees and he had to settle for bogey.
“It basically comes down to one swing,” Haas said. “If you hit a bad [tee shot], you’re probably going to make five or six. If you hit a good one you’ll maybe have a birdie chance.”
If the player is able to squeeze his attempt between the trees and water, he’ll be faced with a green that has far less contours than before. Rose said the removal of the bowl on the left side rewards more good shots and even though there are penalizing bunkers on the other side, he was confident the hole would reward those who make the right play and punish those who don’t.
The historic difficulty of the closing hole was the biggest reason Gil Hanse did not do much to alter the hole when he redesigned the course last year. It ranked as the third-hardest finishing hole on the PGA Tour, excluding majors in 2013, and that’s a challenge neither Donald Trump nor Hanse wanted to remove.
“We felt like there was a lot of quality here, let’s just leave it alone,” Hanse said Wednesday. “It’s provided year-in-and-year-out a dramatic finish for the golf course so we really didn’t think it needed any changing.”