Unlike the rest of the working world, late afternoon Friday seemed when serious business began at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship on Trump National Doral’s Blue Monster.
First round co-leaders Scott Piercy and Marcus Fraser, who have struggled with their game lately, regressed to their recent mean with a pair of 5-over-par 77s. Then, 45-year-old Phil Mickelson carried Throwback Thursday all the way through 10 holes of Friday before his game went so far south, it slept not with fishes but with penguins.
Then the leaderboard resembled modern logic. Leading at 10-under 134 after a 66 was Adam Scott, the winner at last week’s Honda Classic and second in the Northern Trust Open in his two most recent events. Two shots back at 8-under 136 were world No. 3 Rory McIlroy (65) and 2015 Cadillac winner Dustin Johnson, the latter of which shot the day’s best round, an 8-under 64.
So, it will be Scott and McIlroy in the final pair Saturday and Dustin Johnson and Danny Willett (7-under 137) in the next-to-last pair.
“It felt like we were out there a long time [Friday],” said Scott, in a threesome with Johnson and 2012 Cadillac winner Justin Rose. “I mean, we were playing slow. I was getting a little tired. But it was good to feed off DJ and the group playing well. He put the foot down around the turn and I could see a lot of other guys playing great golf out there, too, on the leaderboard.”
Said Johnson, “[Scott] played well [Thursday] and [Friday]. I played well [Friday]. [Thursday], I was just watching a lot. I was grinding [Thursday] all day.”
After an even-par 72 first round that left him six shots off the lead, Johnson birdied one of the first five holes, the 448-yard par-4 No. 2. Of the remaining 13 holes, he birdied seven, parred the other six.
Asked if he sensed this would be a good day, Johnson said, “Well, I knew it wasn’t going to be as bad as [Thursday]. I worked on it. I felt like I figured it out and, yeah, I had a lot of confidence coming in. I just played well in LA. I feel like I’ve been swinging the club very well.”
McIlroy felt the same way, aside from his putting. He started putting left-hand low to open the tournament Thursday. On Friday, he felt he saw the results.
“There were a lot of big momentum putts in there that I had not been holing,” McIlroy said. “So, to see those drop [Friday] and be as comfortable as I was, it feels really good.”
Mickelson said he feels good going into the weekend, too, although his Friday ended with an Unhappy Hour.
Starting from No. 1 Friday, Mickelson birdied hole Nos. 5-8 to hit the turn in 32. He led by three shots after 10 holes and had a five-footer for birdie on the par-4 11th — but it went around the cup and out. As his threesome prepared to tee off on the par-5 12th, Mickelson gave the ground a thump with his driver with obvious dismay at the missed opportunity.
More to come. A remarkable backspin-loaded shot out of the right front bunker tapped the edge of the rough and almost ran back into the hole for eagle. So, another short birdie putt. This one skirted the edge of the hole. Mickelson still had a two-shot lead over Paul Casey. That turned into a one-shot lead after a lip-out on No. 13.
The slide ended with a 40 on the back nine, even for the day.
“I don’t know what happened. I kind of lost focus on the back nine,” Mickelson said. “I three-putted 13 and missed a four-footer. And hit a terrible wedge shot on 15. Even further botched, I didn’t have a hard up and down. I made double there. I just kind of lost my train of thought.
“I’ll be fresh and ready for the weekend,” he said confidently. “I feel like I’m driving the ball extremely well, and my iron game is sharp. Even though that back nine wasn’t what I wanted, it was kind of an anomaly. It’s going to be a good weekend.”
1. Adam Scott
T2. Rory McIlroy
T2. Dustin Johnson
4. Danny Willett
T5. Charley Hoffman
T5. Bubba Watson