Golf

Some golfers hope for repeat of last year’s fierce Blue Monster

Luke Donald hits out of a bunker during a practice round for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on Wednesday, March 4, 2015.
Luke Donald hits out of a bunker during a practice round for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Among almost everything renovated around Trump National Doral since real-estate mogul Donald Trump bought the resort, only the Blue Monster got such a public test drive by upper-echelon drivers. After a bumpy and wet ride, the changes splashed ugliness all over last year’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship scores.

It was, statistically, the hardest non-major course of the 2014 PGA Tour season.

Yet to some of this year’s field, that’s what reelevated the course’s stature to match its iconic status. And they’re looking forward to a rerun, starting Thursday.

“I love it when golf courses are playing hard,” last year’s Cadillac winner, Patrick Reed, said Wednesday. “I’m a scrambler. Whenever you have to play a golf course where everyone’s hitting a driver and wedge to every green, making birdies on every hole, it just … to me, it’s more fun to play a golf course where you’re having to hit every kind of shot, having to scramble to make pars.”

Reed’s 4-under-par 284 winning score would have put him in the top 10 of only one of the previous 20 PGA Tour Events at Doral, the 2007 WGC-CA Championship. Of the other 19 events, 4-under for four days got into the top 20 only three times.

“Anytime you’ve got to battle out there and 4-, 5-, 6-under is going to win, I kind of thrive better on those conditions than a tournament where you have to shoot 25-under,” said Luke Donald, as at home in the sand as a 4-year-old with a shovel. “I quite like when courses are made tough.”

No conditions were tougher on last year’s PGA Tour outside of Pinehurst, which hosted the annual golf course wrestling match called the U.S. Open and the Masters’ home, Augusta National.

No other course saw a higher percentage of tee shots find the fairway bunkers (19 percent) or fewer tee shots find the fairway (48.2 percent). Having the second-toughest front nine on the door among nonmajor events (playing .989 over par on average) and the fourth-toughest back nine (.863 over par) led to an average round of 1.852 over par. Pinehurst was 3.076. Augusta was 1.946.

“The challenge around here is trying to hit your drive halfway decent — miss the water, miss the bunkers and make putts,” said Bubba Watson, who finished second. “Last year was rock hard because of a brand-new golf course. I happened to just survive it, make a few putts.”

Said Phil Mickelson, 2009 winner at Doral: “I thought they did a good job with the redesign. About 90 percent of it was exactly how they wanted it. There were a few holes that didn’t play the way they wanted to. I’m hopeful they made those tweaks. But I think Gil Hanse is a great architect who knows what he’s doing. Did, for the most part, a really good job.”

Hanse, the esteemed designer, lengthened the course by 147 yards (it got shortened by 223 yards this year) and brought a version of climate change to the Blue Monster, expanding or adding watery maws. Welcome to Waterworld — no PGA Tour event saw more splashdowns than the 318 during last year’s Cadillac Championship, 14 more than the FedEx St. Jude Classic and 98 more than any other PGA Tour event at Doral since 2003.

“The setup was quite severe,” Donald said. “That one day (Friday), it was extremely windy, and good shots were hitting greens and catching slopes. I think they’ve softened some of the contours in certain greens that were slightly troublesome.”

Reed often had a tough time finding the fairway but stayed clear of the wet, unlike most of his pursuers over the four days.

“My short game was really good last year. My chipping was amazing. I remember making a lot of putts,” Reed said. “Whenever your short game is on, you can kind of aim away from the flags. You know it’s playing tough, so you know you don’t have to shoot 12-, 13-under par. I knew single digits would handle it. Playing a little bit more conservative, but aggressive to where I want to go. It seemed to really work. I’d pick targets away from the flag and try to make an aggressive golf swing to there. I always gave myself a chance. You’re going to roll in a putt here or there once in a while.”

Reed said the course felt the same to him after his Wednesday practice round.

(The course isn’t the only thing Reed likes unchanged. He and wife Justine requested the same room as last year, one they got switched to last year because it included a bathtub, so third-trimester-pregnant Justine wouldn’t have to stand in the shower. And he listens to the same music before his round. And carries six tees. And three balls. And puts the ball-marking coin down tails-up. He doesn’t use the same coin — “I lose those.”)

“I look forward to the challenge,” Watson said after playing 27 holes on the course over Monday and Tuesday. “When you come here, the challenge of the wind, the challenge of the golf course, the speed of the greens are really, really quick right now. … This is why we play the game of golf — to challenge ourselves, try to improve, get better in tough conditions.”

If you go

Where: Trump National Doral, 400 NW 87th Ave., Doral.

Course: The Blue Monster, 7,258 yards, Par 72.

Format: 72-hole stroke play with no cut.

The field: 74 players, including the top 50 in the world.

Purse: $9,250,000 ($1,570,000 to the winner).

FedEx points: 550 to the winner.

TV: Thursday-Friday, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Golf Channel; Saturday, noon to 3 p.m. Golf Channel; 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. NBC. Sunday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Golf Channel; 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. NBC.

Defending champion: Patrick Reed.

Parking: General parking is at JC Bermudez Park at 3000 NW 87th Ave., Doral. Preferred parking is at the same location, but a pass is required.

Tickets: Go to www.cadillacchampionship.com for information. Daily grounds passes start at $40 for Thursday, $50 for Friday, and $60 for Saturday or Sunday. Patrons 18 and under are admitted free with a ticketed adult.

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