Top golfers try to tame a redesigned Monster at Doral

So, there’s a new Blue at the Trump National Doral Resort greeting the golfers at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. … Well, what do you know?

Nothing. Four-time Doral winner and defending champion Tiger Woods doesn’t know — about the course or perhaps even his back, which he decided only Wednesday would be strong enough for him to play. Nick Watney doesn’t know. Sergio Garcia knows a little. But, really, nobody knows anything about what will happen this week or who will benefit most when the world’s best golfers face a Blue Monster that’s as different from what it has been the past few years as a 2015 Corvette is from a 1962 Vette.

“A few guys have gone down and played practice rounds,” Woods said Saturday after his third round at the Honda Classic. “The majority of the guys haven’t seen it yet and they will see it this coming week. I’m one of those guys that hasn’t seen it. I’ve heard about what they’ve done and read about what they’ve done, but I haven’t seen it with my own eyes.”

Nobody who has paid attention to real estate mogul Donald Trump’s style the past 30 years should have been surprised when his purchase of the resort came with an across-the-board facelift for the whole place. Trump brought in renowned course designer Gil Hanse to work on the Blue course, which has hosted a PGA event annually since 1962.

“I liked it. I had some success there,” Watney, who won in 2011 and finished second in 2009, said with a laugh. “I enjoy the tournament a lot. But it’s not my call, I guess. I’m sure I’ll like the new course.”

What started as restoration evolved into reboot. Except, that is, for the famous 467-yard, par-4 18th hole that’s the maw of The Monster. Even parts of the course between holes got changed, with spectator humps added.

“I think the course is more challenging,” Garcia said. “More playability when it comes down to pin positions and greens, distance on different holes. A lot of different looks, too. I was quite pleased.”

Explaining “playability,” Garcia said, “They’ve lengthened some of the short par-4’s. More than anything, they have so many more pin positions now on the greens. The greens look totally different. You can attack the pins around bunkers and things like that a lot better than maybe you could in the past. I think the driving is a little bit tighter. Even though, they took a good amount of trees away, I think the fairways are narrower, more challenging. Depends on the weather, but I think it’ll definitely play tougher.”

Without wind, Doral’s showcase course deserved less “The Blue Monster” than “Cookie Monster.” Or, even “Grover.”

Justin Rose in 2012 and Watney in 2011 both won at 16-under-par. But Watney shot 18-under in 2009 when he finished second by a shot to Phil Mickelson. Woods came home eased up last year, bogeying two of the last three holes and still shot 19-under, his power often overcoming any lack of precision.

“The defense was the wind,” Watney said. “If it was calm, it was easier. If windy, more difficult. If they toughened up the course and we get wind, we’ll see. Maybe par will be a good score.”

Players regularly got under par right off the bat with the fairly straightforward 529-yard, par-5 No. 1. Last year, it yielded more birdies than pars and bogeys combined. (One of the strangest things about Woods’ dominating 2013 win: he birdied the hole twice, made only par twice. He birdied or eagled No. 1 in 18 consecutive rounds during his 2005-07 Doral winning streak and the first two rounds in 2008.)

Now, No. 1 extends over 600 yards with fairway bunkers narrowing the margin of error. Also, a center-line bunker injects some strategy into the hole.

Hanse played Aquarius the water bearer on Nos. 15 and 16, though the former remains an accessible par-3 and the latter stays a par-4. Where water was present but without presence on No. 16, now it has been expanded to where there’s risk in going for the green over the water off the tee.

An august field facing a once-known course now greatly altered (and Woods’ questionable health) creates a greater-than-usual curiosity about this year’s Cadillac Championship.

“It’s still known as the Trump Doral, but it’s a different course,” Garcia said. “It’s almost like going to a new venue. You never know what’s going to happen. Obviously, the big players are going to be there [at the end] because when you play well, it doesn’t matter where you play.”

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