Among the last to qualify for the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, in the last group to finish Thursday’s first round on Trump National Doral’s Blue Monster … and first on the leaderboard. That’s Marcus Fraser.
Well, tied for first with Scott Piercy, who also shot a 6-under-par 66 in relative peace and obscurity. The execution of Piercy’s round occurred simultaneous with the rounds of Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, so Piercy played in front of as many officials as fans.
Speaking of Mickelson, the Hall of Famer-to-be is one shot back. Since winning in 2009, he’s been relevant at Doral only once — the 2013 throwback year when he finished in a tie for third and Tiger Woods won.
“I feel good with the putter and my short game is OK,” Mickelson said. “It is very difficult chipping around Doral with the bermuda rough as well as the fairways. The fairways are every bit as tough as the rough because you can’t get the wedge underneath it. The lies are so tight. So, if you can’t putt it from off the green, it’s challenging.”
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You could say the closest the supergroup of Nos. 1-2-3 in the world — Spieth, McIlroy and Jason Day — got to the lead might’ve been when they were on the 17th fairway adjacent to Piercy playing No. 8. The best of the world ranking’s best turned out to be Spieth with his 3-under 69 that put him tied for eighth, three shots back. McIlroy shot 1-under 71 and Day finished with an even-par 72.
“We were actually able to feed off each other for a while on a very difficult golf course through the first 12 holes or so,” Spieth said. “Then each of us had a bit of a slip towards the end, a little bit of a damper on the round. But we’ll come back [Friday] and get off to a good start.”
McIlroy quipped: “I think the front nine, the atmosphere was better. Then the sun went in so the people went away, basically.”
In that gloom, Piercy finished his round with five birdies in his last nine holes and a bogey on the vicious par-4 18th.
“These greens are the second-biggest on tour. To be close enough to make birdie putts says something about my ball-striking,” Piercy said. “Giving myself the opportunity to make shorter putts, where you’re not dealing with a lot of the breaks. A lot of my putts were two or three inches on the edge instead of working on those big slopes.”
His round represented a U-turn after he missed the cut at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens last week. That result continued a trend started by a 45th place at the Waste Management Open on Feb. 7 and a 67th at the Farmers Insurance Open on Jan. 31.
“I brought out a new coach Monday morning,” Piercy said. “I think we kind of got on the right track. We go back to comfortable spots. We have ideas where I’ve been good before. To be surprised, yes, maybe to show results that quick, especially after last week. I don’t think I had eight birdies the whole tournament. I had eight [Thursday].”
Piercy said of the switch to Las Vegas’ Jeff Smith from Michael Boyd: “I just wasn’t seeing some results. The old guy is one of my good buddies. I just told him, ‘Hey, I’ve got to do something different.’ He understood.”
Fraser won the Maybank Championship Malaysia two weeks ago to get into the WGC event.
“Before Malaysia, I didn’t see [Thursday’s 66] coming, but, yeah, pulled that one out of the hat and played well all week,” Fraser said. “Then played well last week in Perth.”
Fraser actually took a one-shot lead by running off a hat trick of birdies on Nos. 5, 6 and 7, all par-4s, and looked to expand the lead on the par-5 No. 8, which gave up two eagles and 16 birdies Thursday. Alas, his second shot found the water — “a bit unfortunate but felt like I hit a decent shot down there” — leading to a bogey.
“I felt like I did everything really well,” Fraser said. “The greens are perfect out there. There’s not a mark on them, so you feel like if you read them well and get the ball started on line, it’s got a good chance to go in.”