The Beautiful Blue Monster
In the past decade, no two players have come close to winning as many tournaments worldwide as Woods and Els (both have more than 30). So it can certainly be argued that Doral and The Genuity combined to create something that those made-for-primetime TV shoot-outs could not: a true top-two battle.
This was not some fabricated contest. There was something real on the line here. Ernie had not won on the U.S. tour since the 2000 season and Tiger had not visited the PGA Tours winners circle in nearly six months.
A few years ago Raymond Floyd oversaw a facelift at Doral, adding and expanding bunkers to the point where there was so much sand that this Tour stop resembled the Dubai Desert Classic. Most players cringed at the New Blue, so this gem of a course was restored more closely to its historic roots. Now the raves are universal.
Prior to the 2002 Geunity, Tiger had played Doral only once. He finished tied for ninth in 1998. Tiger had not planned to play Doral this year, but poor showings on the West Coast and poor health that limited Woods schedule inspired him to tee it up in The Genuity. Thank goodness. I havent played here since the changes, Tiger said last Wednesday. Im looking forward to it.
The renovated, retro-Doral is a course players covet. It penalizes poor shots severely and rewards good play. There are no tricks on this track. And when that famous winter wind whips across the Florida peninsula, churning up all of that blue Doral water, shaking the sun-drenched palm trees to their roots, thats when we learn why this course earned the moniker 'Monster.'
On Saturday at Doral, the wind swirled and gusted. The average score for the field was two-over-par 74. Els bettered that average by eight strokes. His six-under 66 gave Ernie an eight-stroke lead heading to the final round. He must have been playing a different course than the rest of us, Nick Price said.
Yet, despite the huge lead Ernie held over Tiger heading to the final 18, neither Els nor Woods would admit the tournament was over. Anything can happen here, Ernie explained, Especially with Tiger. Hes come back on me before.
I just hope the wind keeps blowing, Woods said.
On Sunday everyone got what he wished for. The wind blew. Only the most precise strikes could produce the kind of round necessary to catch Els. Tiger almost pulled it off. He whittled the lead down to one stroke for a moment on Sunday, but Woods couldnt completely conquer the Monster and Ernie finally righted his ship.
Els would hang on to win by two after millions of viewers undoubtedly hung on the edges of their chairs, witnessing a thriller. Yeah, Im really glad I decided to come here, said Woods.
Yes, so were we.
One thought for the future of events at Doral: the LPGA Tour staged a tournament at Doral for the first time last year, but no Florida Swing for the ladies this year and, hence, no Doral. What a shame. Lets hope the LPGA returns to the beautiful Blue Monster. After all, what could be better than Els and Woods on Sunday? Well, how about Sorenstam and Webb?
Lexi involved in a(nother) rules controversy at LPGA Thailand
Jessica Korda stole the show this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand, winning the star-studded event by four strokes in her first start since undergoing serious jaw surgery to address a significant overbite that led to ailments ranging from facial cramping to headaches to sleep apnea.
But just four strokes behind Korda finished Lexi Thompson, who may have challenged for the win on Sunday if not for another rules controversy during the second round of the event.
Thompson, who was famously assessed two two-stroke penalties last year at the ANA Inspiration that ultimately cost her the title, was hit with another two-stroke penalty on Friday in Thailand after she moved a sign out of her swing path at Siam Country Club.
The 23-year-old mistakenly thought a billboard on the 15th hole was a moveable object, when in fact, the local rule deemed this particular advertisement a "temporary immovable obstruction."
The two-stroke penalty was assesed after the round, where the par she made on the hole became a double bogey and what would have been a 66 ballooned into a 68.
After Further Review: JT may face serious Ryder Cup heckling
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On Thomas getting heckler thrown out ...
Justin Thomas polished off a playoff win at the Honda Classic despite the efforts of a fan who screamed for his ball to head for a fairway bunker on the 16th hole.
Thomas signaled for the fan to be ejected after striping his tee shot on No. 16, telling him, “Enjoy your day, buddy. You’re done.” It’s the second straight week that Thomas has had issues with fans, having bristled at some of the behavior he encountered while grouped with Tiger Woods at the Genesis Open.
Thomas’ stance is that golf has earned a reputation as a “classy sport” that should place it above jeering and catcalls from the gallery. It’s a view that is as noble as it is unachievable.
As long as tournaments continue to serve alcohol well into the afternoon hours, there will be outlier fans who will look to get a rise out of players with comments before, during or after swings. Thomas was within his right to ask for the fan’s removal, though I’d imagine the European fans planning to attend this year’s Ryder Cup in Paris might take note of the apparent impact the gallery can have on Thomas while in the heat of battle. – Will Gray
On the debate over rolling back the ball ...
The opening salvos in what promises to be one of the most polarizing eras in golf were exchanged this week. First, USGA CEO Mike Davis, via Jack Nicklaus, announced his arrival: “Mike said, ‘We’re getting there [on the distance issue]. We’re going to get there. I need your help when we get there,’” the Golden Bear explained when asked about the growing drumbeat to curtail how far modern players hit the golf ball.
A few days later, former Acushnet CEO Wally Uihlein fired back: “Mike Davis has not told us (Acushnet/Titleist) that he is close and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there.”
Perhaps this will turn out to be a misunderstanding and the game’s rules makers and manufacturers will all end up on the same sideline, but it doesn’t feel that way right now. – Rex Hoggard
On Tiger turning up the notch on his comeback ...
It’s safe to say the Tiger Woods comeback is ahead of schedule. After looking lost with his long game in his first two starts of the year, he led the field in proximity to the hole and third in driving distance. He flighted and shaped shots both directions, seemingly at ease, looking nothing like the player we saw at Torrey and Riviera.
If that form continues at Bay Hill and beyond, this has the potential to be one of the greatest comebacks in golf history. – Ryan Lavner
On Korda's journey from pain to promise ...
Jessica Korda is the leader in the clubhouse for best story of the year in women’s golf. She won her first start of the season Sunday at the Honda LPGA Thailand just a little more than two months after undergoing a complex and painful double-jaw surgery to alleviate headaches caused by her jaw’s alignment.
She did so in record-breaking fashion, shattering tournament scoring records against a star-studded field that included the top six players in the world. If Korda can so quickly overcome the challenges of that daunting offseason, there is no telling what else this determined young American star might achieve this year. – Randall Mell
List loses playoff, may have gained performance coach
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Luke List didn’t win in his playoff with Justin Thomas Sunday at the Honda Classic, but he thinks he may have found a pretty good new performance coach.
The guy’s name is “Moose.”
He’s a former Australian rules football player.
Actually, his full name is Brent Stevens, a friend of List’s caddie, who put them on the phone together for the first time last week at the Genesis Open.
List liked a lot of the performance keys Stevens gave him and posted some of the advice in his yardage book, so he could reference them.
“Effort over result” was one of the ideas List scribbled down.
“I feel like I've got the ability to play at this level,” said List, who was seeking his first victory Sunday at PGA National. “It just hasn't quite happened yet, but the more I think about it, I feel like the worse I do. So I focus on what's in front of me, the effort into the shot. I did a really good job of that this week.”
List said he’s interested in maybe visiting Australia to take Moose’s training to another level.
“He's a very fit dude,” List said. “He's got some clients that he brings down to south of Melbourne, to run the sand dunes,” List said, “and if we keep in contact, which I'm sure we will, I'm going to have to go down there and get my butt kicked.”
Both in contention, Thomas hears 'crickets' from Woods
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods has become a friend, confidant and something of an adviser for Justin Thomas.
Whenever Thomas has been in contention in his young career, Woods has often texted him advice or good luck on the eve of the final round.
That wasn’t the case Saturday night after the third round of the Honda Classic.
“Got crickets last night,” Thomas said, laughing.
That’s because Woods was in contention, too, beginning the final round seven shots off the lead.
“I knew he had one thing in mind, and we both had the same thing in mind,” Thomas said. “I thought that was pretty funny.”
Thomas added that he was “very impressed” with Woods’ 12th-place finish at PGA National.