The cheering for the comeback of Dustin Johnson came in a growing ovation that rose into overcast skies as he strode up the 18th fairway of Doral’s Blue Monster golf course on Sunday.
The cheering for an arriving Ndamukong Suh was heard all over South Florida, augmented by fist-bumps and high-fives, as Dolphins fans heard and spread the news about their team’s biggest win in years.
What a day for Miami sports.
On the same afternoon that the World Golf Championships tournament ended Doral’s 54th consecutive year hosting a PGA Tour event with Johnson lifting a trophy and a $1,570,000 check, word spread that the Dolphins reportedly had landed the NFL’s premier free agent prize in the behemoth defensive tackle Suh.
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Don’t think genteel golf and violent football can intersect?
You should have been at Doral, where it was tough to walk the length of a chip shot and not see a spectator in a Dolphins cap sneaking glances at his smartphone for developments on Suh — news that was breaking like a champagne bottle christening a ship. The sound of celebration.
The leaders had just teed off Sunday when a group of four Dolfans were sharing the news that their team had landed Suh with a $114 million, six-year contract offer that includes a $60 million guarantee, a deal that must wait until Tuesday to be officially signed.
“I got a [phone] alert just as Bubba [Watson] was about to hit his drive, and I had to contain myself from shouting in his backswing,” said smiling Dolphins fan Jeremy Morton, 31, of Miami Lakes. “It was weird. I called my buddy and I was, like, whispering that we got Suh!”
It was harder to say who might have been happier Sunday: Dolfans cheering Miami’s biggest sports get since the Heat landed LeBron James in 2010 or golf host and Doral resort owner Donald Trump, whose tournament enjoyed a scintillating finish that was unexpected, a surprise gift.
Doral’s final round began with J.B. Holmes holding a seemingly comfy five-shot lead and in command. It portended a boring Sunday, an afternoon of Holmes coasting safely to an anticlimactic finish.
Bubba Watson had other ideas, though.
So did Johnson.
Watson charged early but faded late. Holmes faded early but hung around. And Johnson crept up, out-steadying and passing them both with a final-round, 3-under-par 69.
The Americans would finish 1-2-3, and Doral was going to have a dramatic winner no matter what.
Third-place Watson is ranked No. 2 in the world and the reigning Masters champion.
Runner-up Holmes survived two brain surgeries to win on the PGA Tour last year for the first time since 2008.
Johnson? He overcame a 2014 leave of absence reportedly related to a cocaine issue. That and his engagement to famous daughter and one-time party-girl Paulina Gretzky have made Johnson tabloid fodder — and needing a triumph like this to make the right kind of headlines again.
You could root for Johnson, who said his six-month leave was for “personal challenges” and added Sunday, “I was working on my game, and working on me.” He lost 12 pounds. Got clean. He has a baby son born Jan. 20.
“It means everything,” said Johnson of his comeback victory. “It’s been a tough road. But a lot of good things came out of it.”
Doral’s crescendo punctuates an exciting time in South Florida sports, with championship tennis on Key Biscayne and horse racing’s Florida Derby on deck. In local team sports, excitement surrounds the coming Marlins season, Heat fans are energized by the emergence of 7-footer Hassan Whiteside, Hurricanes men’s basketball vies for the NCAA Tournament, and the Panthers chase an NHL playoff berth.
Now, the Dolphins and a man named Suh.
This guy is a monster in most figurative shades of the word — a beast to offensive linemen trying to block him, and an ogre at times in his attention to sportsmanship.
Suh, 28, instantly and hugely gives the Dolphins a much-improved run defense and a better pass rush. He also might cause his coaches indigestion, given his $420,669 in league fines for “player-safety violations” in his five seasons, a fancy phrase for dirty play.
Plainly, Suh is the kind of player fans love to hate.
Unless he is playing for their team, of course!
The AFC East-rival Bills acquired running back LeSean McCoy, and the Jets traded for receiver Brandon Marshall — but the Dolphins trumped them both. The Jets and Bills caused ripples; Suh is a cannonball that leaves a wake.
The issue is the cost and all that guaranteed money. A smart football move isn’t always a prudent business deal. Signing Suh smacks of desperate overspending, a byproduct of a franchise with dissatisfied fans, a club that last won a playoff game in 2000. The Dolphins need to be careful now that the windfall given Suh does not shortchange the roster in other areas.
Meanwhile, out at the Blue Monster, minutes after more cheering ushered him off the 18th green, Johnson was handed his infant son by fiancée Paulina as he headed over to sign his winning scorecard.
Somebody asked Doral’s latest champion how he felt.
“New and improved,” he said, smiling.
On this big, big day for Miami sports, Dolphins fans could surely say the same of their team.