World’s best meet at Blue Monster

Virtually all of the best golfers on the planet will be in the same place this week, Trump National Doral, for the first time this season.

The World Golf Championships aren’t major championships, but along with the Players Championship, they are the next best thing. If you look at the list of winners in the WGC-Cadillac Championship, you can see why.

Since the tournament was first played in 1999 as the WGC-American Express Championship at Valderrama in Spain, the winner most years has been a major champion. The event has been played on the Blue Monster at Doral since 2007.

Tiger Woods won that first one and six more. Ernie Els of South Africa has won twice, and others who have raised the trophy include major winners Mike Weir of Canada, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose of England and Geoff Ogilvy of Australia.

Nick Watney, Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson, who all have claimed the title since 2011, have not won majors but have shown at times that they are capable of someday breaking down that door.

With the Masters only five weeks away, the WGC-Cadillac Championship serves as something of a dress rehearsal for the first major of the year, but without the azaleas and the dogwood at Augusta National.

Johnson, perhaps the best player in the world yet to win a major championship, claimed his second WGC title last year on Doral’s Blue Monster Course not long after coming off a self-imposed, six-month hiatus. He had stepped aside to take care of personal issues.

“Obviously, it’s one of my biggest wins, and especially after a long layoff, to come back out and win in my fifth start means a lot,” said Johnson, who also won the 2013 WGC-HSBC Champions in China. During his victory speech at Doral, he turned the talk toward the Masters.

“At Augusta, you’ve really got to hit quality iron shots, control your ball, control the distance, and I think I did that really well this week in very tough conditions.

“And I like tough golf courses. I general really play pretty well on tough courses. So going into Augusta, it’s just another tough course, and I feel like my game is definitely suited for there. It’s always fit my eye really well. Just haven’t played it that great.”

That was until last year, when he contended in the Masters until winding up in a tie for sixth, so his victory at Doral might have played a role in finally getting it right at Augusta.

Johnson won by a stroke over J.B. Holmes last year at Doral, and with the likes of Bubba Watson, Adam Scott of Australia, Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Webb Simpson, Bill Haas and Rory McIroy of Northern Ireland also finishing in the top 10, it shows that the Blue Monster is a course for golf’s big horses.

Watson, Scott, Oosthuizen, Simpson and McIlroy also are major champions, and all will be in the field again this week trying to tame the monster.

Woods, who claimed his seventh title in this event and 18th in the World Golf Championships in 2013, won’t be around even though he lives nearby in Jupiter, Fla., because he is recuperating from three back surgeries since 2014.

Add titles in the 2005 and 2006 Ford Championship at Doral, which gave way to the WGC event the following year, and Woods was won four times on the Blue Monster.

Woods, who has a guest villa on the property named after him, certainly liked the old version but said after renovations three years ago: “Doral has totally changed and changed for the better.”

Doral is one of several golf properties owned by Donald Trump. He had the Blue Monster renovated in 2013 by noted architect Gil Hanse, who designed the course that will be used at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.

Mickelson, for one, knows it tweaking Doral was a difficult chore since he has done some golf course work of his own, but he thinks they got it right.

“I think it’s really hard to tell how it’s going to play and visualize greens that are rolling 13, 14 on the Stimpmeter and windy conditions and whatnot when you’re building it, and putting in the dirt and so forth, and I think it’s really close,” Mickelson said when the course reopened in 2014.

“I think it’s really close to being great, but you still have to have those options when the conditions do get difficult, because that tends to happen quite often over the 20 years I’ve been coming here. It gets really blustery and can go 25-35 (mph), and you have to have a way to play the course. …

“It’s a really tough course, you know.”

One on which the cream rises to the top.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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