DORAL, Fla. – The scoring average was 76, there were 113 balls in the water and only three of the world’s top 68 players broke par during Friday’s second round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship on a revamped Trump National Doral where winds gusted to more than 30 miles per hour.
There was no number, though, that could illustrate the brutal conditions better than the day’s most shocking anecdote.
Standing over his tee shot on the par-3 ninth hole, feeling like there was nowhere safe to land his ball, all-world shotmaker Bubba Watson grabbed a pitching wedge and decided to lay up.
Go ahead and read that last sentence again, just so it sinks in. Bubba Watson. Par 3. Lay up.
“What makes it so difficult is that it hasn’t matured yet, so there’s no soft areas anywhere on the course,” said Watson, who shot an even-par 72. “Well, I guess the water. That’s soft.”
If you’re scoring at home, it took exactly a day and a half of niceties and formalities and various variations of the word “fair” permeating the grounds before competitors couldn’t contain themselves any longer.
As one player walked from the driving range to the first tee prior to his second round, he growled, “This course is s---.”
Trust me: He didn’t say it was sick.
It wasn’t long until he and the rest of the field were the ones feeling sick, as vicious winds attacked an already fast and firm course, leaving the tournament resembling what can only be described as U.S. Open-like carnage.
There were no birdies on the 14th hole, just one on the seventh (by Ryan Moore) and one on the fourth, thanks to a 92-footer from Tiger Woods that ranked as the seventh-longest made putt since the PGA Tour started keeping track of such things over a decade ago.
The struggles were so great that Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan collectively posted scores of 9 over – and those are the four co-leaders entering the weekend.
When the round was over and the dust was literally starting to settle, talk amongst the players centered on the course and the conditions, but more than anything else, the setup.
“The rules officials made a huge mistake,” said Webb Simpson, who posted a 6-over 78. “We all make mistakes and they made a huge mistake. Unfortunately we had to pay for it. I’m in a tough place. I played terrible, so anything I say is going to sound like complaining just because I played badly, but it was literally the most unfair I have ever played. Ever. There’s not even a close second.”
“It was getting to the point,” explained Graeme McDowell, who shot 1-under 71, “where I was thinking, ‘This is close to getting unplayable.’ It was just about playable, let's put it that way. I can't remember playing in tougher conditions on this side of the pond.”
Consider these more explanations than excuses. There aren’t many in a no-cut field where even last place scores a $44,500 paycheck who are seeking sympathy, though a little empathy might be necessary.
As it was, Watson’s tale was hardly the only one that signified the difficulty.
Brandt Snedeker had 170 yards to the flag on No. 7 – and hit a 6-iron to lay up 40 yards short. Jamie Donaldson hit driver-driver on the par-4 14th – and he had the low round of the day with a 2-under 70.
“The golf course in no wind is a difficult golf course; in 30 mile-per-hour wind, it’s nearly impossible,” said Chris Kirk, who was one of those three players under par for the day. “These are the best players in the world – all top 50 in the world are here – and guys who should be averaging 68 or 69 are shooting 75 or 76.”
It was a weird day. It was a windy day. And yes, it was a wet day.
It was a day that saw players hitting greens only to find their balls bounding into the water. It was a day where Woods lost four balls in water hazards and actually moved up the leaderboard.
It felt like a day where the last player to run out of balls could be declared the winner. Where players might be giving their best Roy McAvoy impersonations: “Give me another ball, Romeo.”
On the renovated Blue Monster, water is now present on 14 of the holes. Players found it on 12 of those.
There was no hyperbole. It was simply a day of superlatives to show just how tough the conditions really were.
“That’s the toughest I’ve ever played,” Watson said, shaking his head.
Many of his fellow competitors echoed those sentiments. But really, they weren’t even necessary. The numbers and stories told us everything.