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Whether or not the balky back of Tiger Woods permits him to defend his title this week, an elite field will be on hand for the WGC-Cadillac Championships. The top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking constitute the majority of one of the best collections of players golf fans will get to see all year.
But this year, the biggest star on display might not hit a single shot. And no, I'm not referring to Donald Trump but rather to the face-lift given to Doral that makes it a star on its own.
Gil Hanse, who is also designing the course to be used at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, was tasked with refortifying the TPC Blue Monster, which had become less terrifying with age. Doral hasn't ranked among the top 30 in course difficulty on the PGA Tour since 2007. Each of the past six WGC-Cadillac champions were at least 16 shots under par for the tournament, too.
The four largest transformations have come on holes 1, 9, 15 and 16. We at Numbers Game do our best to explain some of the changes, and what it might mean for that aforementioned elite field this week (all distances below are from the scorecard).
First hole (Par: 5): 2013, 529 yards | 2014, 572 yards
Hole No. 1 at TPC Blue Monster has ranked as the easiest on the course every year since the WGC event made its permanent home here in 2007. In 2013, it ranked as the second-easiest opening hole on the PGA Tour, tougher than only Riviera.
In turn, the green has been significantly moved back, and a fairway bunker has been added in front of that green to challenge players' second shots. Consider why: This hole has surrendered 43 eagles over the past two years in this event and only 12 bogeys. Expect a back right hole location at some point in the week, giving players a significant challenge they have not faced in the recent past.
Ninth hole (Par: 3): 2013, 169 yards | 2014: 200 yards
At No. 9, players will now find the tee area where the eighth green used to be. The look from that new tee box will be a completely different experience. Water is now along the entire right side of the hole, where it used to be on the left, and the hole is also considerably longer.
The past five years, the difficulty of this hole has ranked between sixth and 10th in tournament play. Eventual champions, however, have consistently avoided trouble on the ninth at Doral. Since the WGC-Cadillac moved to this course full time in 2007, champions have played this hole in a combined 6 under. Total number of bogeys: zero.
15th hole (Par: 3): 2013, 175 yards | 2014, 153 yards
The new 15th hole underwent maybe the largest transformation on the course, now shorter and featuring a peninsula-style green. Water surrounds the left side and back of the hole, and should players miss from the tee and hit the bunker on the right, they will have to hit a sand shot with the water lurking in the view of their recovery effort. The green also will present several different looks dependent on the hole location.
Will this presumably stiffer test provide some more dramatics Sunday afternoon? Only once in the past four years has this championship been decided by a single stroke. Since 2007, winners of this event are a combined 13- under on holes 15 and 16. Each of them has played the stretch under par for the week.
16th hole (Par: 4): 2013, 372 yards | 2014, 341 yards
The 16th hole will provide one of the most interesting challenges of the week for players. Trees have been removed in front of the green, enticing the field to take a jab at driving it onto the putting surface. Water short right, and bunkers protecting short left, however, make this task tougher. The lay-up is no picnic, either. There is a massive diagonal bunker on the left in play with the more cautious approach.
Question: Tiger Woods has won four events seven or more times. Can you name them all?
Answer: Arnold Palmer Invitational, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Farmers Insurance Open and WGC-Cadillac Championship.
18th hole (Par: 4)
With the exception of improving the viewing experience for fans, the signature hole at Doral remains largely the same. This non-meddling approach is something we at Numbers Game approve of, but players seeking closing birdies might not.
Each of the past three years, 18 has ranked as the toughest hole on the course at this event, and among the 30 toughest par-4s on the PGA Tour. In fact, in 2012, it played as the second-toughest par-4 on the entire circuit and the most difficult among the non-major venues.
Judging by the finishes golf fans have been treated to the past two weeks, golf fans are in store for another great finish at TPC Blue Monster this Sunday.