Tiger shoots 67, but is it low enough?
DORAL, Fla. -- The name once elicited fear, at the very least respect. Golfers heading to Doral for the annual PGA Tour stop here knew they were in for a battle. And if the wind blew, a week of shaking sand from your hair and nightmares from your mind was par for a very mean course.
"Blue Monster'' was coined early on, back in the 1960s when a resort popped up west of Miami in what was then viewed as the middle of nowhere. They put up a small purse, a PGA Tour event was born, and Billy Casper was winning the first one in 1962 by going around the place in 283, which was 5 under par.
A half century later, much, of course, has changed. Doral is incorporated as its own city. The tournament at Doral is no longer just one of many stops on tour but a World Golf Championship event. Donald Trump is about to buy the place. Technology has made many championship courses ordinary.
And nobody has been afraid of this course for years.
Tiger Woods offered a good example Friday during the second round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
Woods shot a bogey-free 67 that got him to 5 under par for the tournament but still lost ground to the leaders. He began the day six strokes back of Adam Scott and Jason Dufner and finds himself seven behind Bubba Watson -- who shot 10-under-par 62.
"If we get normal wind or no wind at all, these bunkers really are not in play,'' Woods said. "So the longer hitters, it's just drive it down there and you've got a wedge in your hand.''
Woods was not complaining. He knows the situation as well as anyone. He won the regular tour event here in 2005 and 2006 shooting 24 under par and then 20 under par. He basically tore the place apart, and that has been the mindset around here for years.
If the wind doesn't blow, you better go low.
That's why Woods finds himself seven strokes back and in a tie for 15th place.
That's why 67 wasn't good enough to make much of a move.
But there were the years when Woods went low and produced plenty of scoring onslaughts at a place once believed to be brutal.
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"It was so easy today,'' Watson said of the course. "During the practice rounds it was really blowing, then the first day it was blowing a little less. The greens were just running so smooth. Seems like everybody is making putts this week so far.''
Woods might have a quibble with that. He played nicely, hitting 14 of 18 greens. He had three more birdies on par-5s and is 7 under are on the eight par-5s so far this week. But he had four birdie putts of 15 feet or less that he failed to convert and had looks on each of the last four holes he played, getting nothing to drop.
"This is the highest score I could have shot today for sure,'' Woods said. "It could have been pretty low today.''
Once again there were signs that Woods is putting things together. He drove the ball well, and while he failed to convert as many putts as he would have liked, he had his second bogey-free score in three rounds, to go with the 62 he shot Sunday at the Honda Classic.
But nobody's waiting around for him. At Doral, especially on a day like Friday, you better be knocking shots close and holing a few putts. It is simply the landscape around here nowadays.
The once dreaded Monster now typically plays as the easiest of the courses on the Florida Swing in March and is certainly a pushover when compared to the TPC Sawgrass, where the Players Championship is played in May. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Trump has hired architect Gil Hanse to do some work around the place once the 2012 WGC event is completed.
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"It needs a lot of work,'' Trump said this week. "It's a little bit tired, and that's OK. We're going to do something special.''
Hanse was quick to point out the original Dick Wilson design -- that had work done to it by Raymond Floyd in the late 1990s -- will not be a restoration.
"It's a renovation, because we think we are obviously making some significant changes to golf holes, but I think within the spirit of Dick Wilson we'll try to recapture some of the stylistic elements,'' Hanse said.
"We'll try to create a golf course with angles that are relevant again and where it's important to get to the proper side to score as opposed to just hitting it as far as you possibly can. I think if you talk to a lot of the players, that seems to be the strategy or lack thereof on this golf course now is to try and overpower it.''
For now, players have to get used to it or be lapped. Woods saw that the hard way Friday, when he played pretty well and fell farther behind. It's something he's done to others in the past, and something he has to deal with heading into the weekend.
"All they have to do is get these fairways fast, but that's something that they haven't done,'' he said. "Or get the greens rock hard. That will make guys not be as aggressive off the tees, because it puts a premium on getting the ball with spin into the greens. But the greens are soft.
"Even if the ball is in the rough, you can still hold a green. In years past, it wasn't always the case & They are just slower and softer.''
And that meant even after a pretty good round, you could walk away not feeling so good about things.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
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