by Jeff Skinner
The PGA Tour has been frequenting Doral’s Blue Monster for over half a century but when they tee it up tomorrow at The WGC Cadillac Championship not much will look the same. In the words Gil Hanse, the architect who revamped the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral, “It’s really a new golf course.”
Some of the holes may look the same but all have felt the hand of Donald Trump’s recent favorite architect,” A lot of the holes are in the same places as before, but every green has been rebuilt, every bunker has been moved and shifted,” Hanse says. “Twelve of the holes have had significant alterations in either direction or water being brought into play.”
Trump had Hanse start the $25 million transformation of the Blue Monster the day after last year’s tournament finished as part of a $250 million renovation of the Doral Resort.
All of the top 50 players in the world are committed to The Cadillac Championship and they will all get to see Trump’s new baby up close. For those of us that can’t be there here are few articles to act as a primer for the new and improved Blue Monster.
It will be interesting to see what the professionals think and how all these changes play out this week. One thing is for sure, it’s not your daddy’s Blue Monster any longer.
by Jeff Skinner
Jason Day is one of the most talented golfers on the PGA Tour. His recent win at the Accenture Match Play Championship has come out of a rededication to his game. He spoke of playing to win money early in his career to provide for his family that wasn’t at all wealthy. But as he matured his focused changed.
Finding happiness with his wife Ellie and a new son has given Day a new perspective on life and golf. He now realizes that it is championships he should be chasing and not dollars. Like many golfers, he is focused on being number one in the world. Unlike many golfers, Day has the talent to get there.
by Jeff Skinner
1. Paula Creamer’s winning 75 foot eagle putt may be the most exciting moment of the year so far. And her emotional reaction only added to it. It’s been a long time coming and a shot in the arm for her and the LPGA.
2. Russell Henley’s victory at The Honda Classic wasn’t pretty, in fact it was mighty ugly down the stretch, but Henley has the stuff to win a lot of tournaments.
3. Was the all the hype about The Bear Trap overblown? I don’t think so but they have to add 18 to it. Holes 15, 16 and 17 were tough yesterday but 18 was pretty bloodstained yesterday also.
4. All hail The Honda Classic at PGA National. It looked like a major championship out there yesterday. Mark Rolfing of NBC/Golf Channel said it felt like a major over those final holes.
5. Rory McIlroy spit the bit in the final round yesterday but two things about Rory. First his 5 wood into eighteen from 245 yards to 15 feet would have been the shot of the year if he made the putt and went on to win. Second, proving that yes, he has matured since last year’s walk off here, he stood there and did an interview immediately after play was done and spoke to the media afterward. He owns his game and himself and that’s maturity.
6. Tiger Woods’ withdrawal seemed to overshadow the tournament for awhile. But when Rory, Henley, Knox and Palmer started throwing up on themselves things got painfully interesting.
7. Another injury problem for Tiger continues a pattern of his heavily muscled body possibly breaking down. With all his training and working out is it possible he overdoes it and carries too much muscle?
8. Between Father Time, injuries and scheduling, it is possible that we have seen the end to the Tiger versus Phil match up. Mickelson missed the cut, Tiger struggled then withdrew and we all know their schedules rarely intersect other than the majors. Ah, but there is still the FedEx Cup Playoffs. We can only hope but maybe it’s time we all move on from that.
9. The Golf Channel featured Tiger’s range session prior to yesterday’s final round and he looked to be striping it. He looked healthy but he is good at hiding his injuries. A small but amazing little tid bit: as Tiger was hitting his driver he would walk 5-10 yards up the range to retrieve his tee as they flew up range with each swing. Just like us, Tiger likes to conserve his tees, I mean do you think he is paying for those things? I thought it comical.
10. Jhonattan Vegas is back from shoulder surgery after missing all of 2013. His final round wasn’t great but he is playing well and it’s good to see him back and healthy.
11. Plain and simple PGA National is one tough golf course. Eight under par puts you in a playoff…that’s a major championship score.
12. Rory’s meltdown was difficult to watch as was the play of all of the playoff participants over the final holes. But we sit at home each week and watch these guys play incredible golf. Yesterday wasn’t great from a golf shot perspective but it certainly was entertaining. For Russell Henley it puts him on track to be one of the good young American golfers destined to take over the PGA Tour. For Knox and Palmer, anytime you are in the mix it makes you better golfers and they both have plenty of talent. For Rory, I am sure he wishes he was able to close it out but yesterday wasn’t a total loss. You learn more from your failures than you do from your successes and Rory showed us that yesterday. He owned his mistakes and said he’ll try and put them aside and be ready to win this week. It’s easy to forget he’s 24 years old and still a very young man. His actions after he failed to win yesterday show us that he’s grown up quite a bit from last year’s Honda debacle.
13. Is it me or are those TaylorMade SpeedBlade commercials with those puppets a bit creepy? Who comes up with these ideas? Maybe it is cheaper to use puppets instead of the real golfers but come on guys.
by Jeff Skinner
Finally after all the practice, practice, practice I can finally say I can hit it like Tiger Woods. Ask my buddies, that slice has my name written all over it. Well, mine and Tigers’.
by Jeff Skinner
Over and over we hear how hard it is to win on the PGA Tour and today was proof of that, excruciating proof. We saw player after player hit poor shot after poor shot at PGA National with Russell Henley hanging on to win the Honda Classic in a four man playoff.
Henley was the last man standing after a quartet of golfers spilled more blood on the ground than the warriors in Braveheart. Henley, Ryan Palmer, Russell Knox and third round leader Rory McIlroy all faltered down the stretch. Faltered, that’s like saying the Titanic had a small leak. The four of them gave new meaning to the phrases, “Throw up on yourself” or “succumb to the pressure”.
It was a nasty finish as all four of the playoff participants dropped shots on the back nine. None more so than Rory who doubled sixteen and bogeyed seventeen. Even with that spilled blood Rory still had a chance to salvage a win with the shot of the day.
He was at seven under par, one off the lead and sitting 245 yards from the eighteenth green on the 72nd hole. He crushed a high flying five wood onto the green and the ball settled fifteen feet from the hole. Rors fist pumped with joy as he had earned a putt for an winning eagle. It would have been the comeback of the year had the eagle putt fallen but it slid by and his birdie left him in the four nab playoff.
In the playoff Henley was the only player to hit the green in regulation and his two putt birdie made him the last man standing in a war of attrition. For the 24 year old Henley it’s his second PGA Tour win and he joins Rory, Patrick Reed, and Harris English as players under 25 with multiple tour wins. Click here for Doug Ferguson’s game story.
by Jeff Skinner
I was lucky enough to be able to tune into The Golf Channel’s Pre-Game telecast today. For the longest time they had cameras stationed on the practice range and we got to see most of Tiger Woods’ warm-up.
Watching any of these talented pros up-close is a treat but watching the most scrutinized athlete in the world is special indeed. Throw in the Pro-Tracer that tracks the ball flight and a few of The Golf Channel’s best critiquing each ball and you have a bit of heaven for a golf geek.
To my untrained eye, Tiger looked to have a fine warm-up. He was hitting baby fades and sweet little draws at will. Irons, three wood and driver all looked solid and even Brandel Chamblee and Brad Faxon commented how solid Woods was striping it. Chamblee did say his ball flight looked low but that has been Tiger’s normal shot recently.
For a long while we watched as Tiger piped it and he looked poised to go post a low number. But one the course he started spraying the ball early, hit into the water twice and was soon five over after six holes. On the thirteenth he threw in the towel and withdrew due to a sore back.
Tiger’s “media consultant” (he wouldn’t address the media) stated that he was having back spasms similar to those at last season’s Barclays. It’s his fourth withdrawal in five years and maybe that over developed body is breaking down.
Let’s remember that this is the man that won the 2008 U.S. Open while playing on a broken leg. So he certainly can withstand pain when he needs to. But that was then and this is now and Tiger certainly has looked more distracted on the course in the past few seasons than he ever has.
Bad back or bad scorecard? What was the real reason for his withdrawal? Only Tiger knows but anyone watching that pre-round range session would need some serious convincing that the player that was killing it on the range had a bad back.
by Jeff Skinner
It wasn’t the “shot heard round the world.” But for Paula Creamer it is. America’s golfing sweetheart sank an incredible 75 foot eagle putt to beat Azahara Munoz in a playoff and win the HSBC Women’s Champions.
Maybe we’ll call it the “shot from the other side of the world.” After all, Singapore is a hefty plane ride from the states but Creamer doesn’t mind. In fact she has gushed about loving her trips to Asia and this win makes this trip very sweet.
Creamer has struggled to win since her last win at the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open. It has been 79 starts since that win and Creamer, a tour and fan favorite has felt the pressure of try to get back in the winner’s circle.
“It might be one of my favorite wins, and that’s going — taking a pretty big leap right there,” said Creamer. “But you know, it has, it’s been almost three years and you know, so much has happened…It has been coming and it just shows you perseverance. That’s why I love the game. I work hard for this reason. And holding that trophy, gosh, it was so nice.”
As leader Karrie Webb faltered down the stretch, three bogies in her last six holes, Creamer and Munoz found themselves tied at ten under par. They halved the first playoff hole with par fives and returned to the eighteenth hole once again.
Creamer’s second shot finished well past the hole and left her with a long, curving downhill putt for eagle. It was a daunting task and the odds of making a 75 footer are astronomical, but that is why they play the game. “It’s one of those putts where if you just get it in the right spot, it’s going to fall down,” she said. “But I could stand there all day long and putt that and I don’t think get it within six, seven feet.”
I did my best to stay awake and watch The Golf Channel coverage but somewhere around 1:30 am when Webb started imploding My Saturday Night Guinness took over and I fell asleep.
Luckily there’s some great video of Paula and miracle on grass putt. The putt is amazing and her reaction very emotional. It’s her “shot from the other side of the world.”
by Jeff Skinner
The last time we saw Rory McIlroy at The Honda Classic he was walking off mid-round as his game had left him and his agent said he had a toothache. Well, yesterday we saw the Rory McIlroy that has already won two majors and ascended to world number one.
McIlroy shot a bogey free, seven under 63 that has him leading The Honda Classic by a stroke. McIlroy has expelled the demons that haunted him last year and is in a more comfortable place. “Coming in this week, I knew that I was playing well and I just wanted to try and get off to a good start. … Regardless of what happened last year or where it is, it’s always nice to shoot a round like this and get yourself in the mix early.”
McIroy did have the low round of the day but the “moral victory” of the first round had to go to Zach Johnson. Johnson survived a tragic quadruple bogey on the par four tenth hole on only his second hole of the day. He plopped two balls in the water on his approach and limped away with an eight.
Johnson has the reputation of being a bulldog on the course and he lived up to that reputation yesterday. Faced with being four over par after just two holes, Johnson did what he does best, play great golf.
On a monster of a course he hit 79% of the fairways and 89% of the greens in regulations. Over the next sixteen holes he carded seven birdies to salvage a three under 67 and finished tied for eleventh.
Yes, he’s still four strokes off the lead but it’s testament to his doggedness that he is still in the mix.
by Jeff Skinner
This week we are treated to a very strong field of golfers on a very demanding course. But it hasn’t always been that way. This tournament had struggled to get top players to play in it for a long time. There appears to be many reasons behind the growth of The Honda Classic. While there are many factors that have contributed to The Honda being frequented by more and more top players they all start at one place: Ken Kennerly.
Kennerly is the tournament director of The Honda Classic and over the years he has singlehandedly dragged The Honda from the Netherlands of the PGA Tour to the top. Any tournament that has Jack and Barbara Nicklaus as partners is extraordinary.
Tim Rosaforte of Golf World and the ultimate insider for all things golf in the Palm Beach area profiles Kennerly and his quest to rebuild a tournament that was all but abandoned by the upper echelon tour players.
Ken Kennerly realized he’d put the Honda Classic on the map in 2008 during a visit to the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks after Ernie Els’ victory that year. Confirmation came at the crossover from the 14th green to the 15th tee at Bay Hill on pro-am day — from a guy who’d watched Kennerly’s event on TV. “Ken, congratulations on the Honda!” yelled Phil Mickelson, who had spotted Kennerly in a sea of spectators. “You’ve done a wonderful job. I really want to come and support it one year.”
The courtship of Phil heated up at last year’s PGA Championship when Mickelson called Kennerly to his table in player dining. Sitting next to Mickelson were three impressionable young players based in the Palm Beach/Jupiter area: Rickie Fowler, Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka.
Mickelson, who had played the 2002 Honda at TPC Heron Bay when it was struggling at the gate and bouncing between venues in Broward County, talked to Kennerly about potential changes to his 2014 schedule, mentioning that he also wanted to support the Jack Nicklaus family and their involvement with the Honda through the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.
When the commitment was official, Kennerly didn’t get all choked up the way he did when Tiger Woods committed for the first time as a pro in 2012, but in a way, Mickelson playing Honda was a bigger get because of his allegiance to the West Coast swing.