Randall's Rant: Sad Blue Monster no longer around

By Randall MellFebruary 20, 2017, 9:02 pm

I’m going to miss you, Old Blue.

Growing up in the north, Doral’s Blue Monster was more than a golf tournament. It was a symbol, with its shimmering beauty beamed into my living room from overhead blimp shots.

Its stirring images were a hopeful sign I would soon be seeing that first robin returning home in the spring.

Doral’s arrival on our family TV set was a reminder that the last patches of winter snow were about to disappear and we would soon be thrusting open our windows to let the warmth of spring’s invigorating thaw inside.

Doral was a ritualistic experience.

The Florida “swing” arrives this week, and for the first time in 55 years, it won’t include Doral.

It’s gone, unceremoniously swept off the tour schedule last summer. It was cut loose three months after last year’s event was played, with no farewell sendoff.

It was like somebody just flushed the toilet on all that rich history.

That’s sad for more than South Florida golf fans. It’s sad for a generation of North Americans who once thought of Doral as the real start of the golf season, as the real start of the journey toward Magnolia Lane and the Masters.

Doral was the oldest tour stop in the Sunshine State, the first stop in the Florida swing for the longest time. With Mexico wedged between the Honda Classic and the Valspar Championship, is it really still a swing?

When Billy Casper won the inaugural event in 1962, John F. Kennedy was president, the Beatles were working on their first hit in the United Kingdom ("Love Me Do") and astronaut John Glenn was being celebrated as the first American to orbit the Earth.

I hate the way Doral was written off and discarded.

When Casper won that first year, he beat Paul Bondeson by one shot, Jack Nicklaus by two and Ben Hogan by three. No, I didn’t see that, but I watched that unforgettable Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson duel around the Blue Monster in ’05, an epic struggle that breathed new life into the old property.

Nicklaus, Trevino, Floyd, Weiskopf, Crenshaw, Norman, Faldo, Els, Woods and Mickelson all won there.

The 18th hole might have been the most exciting finishing hole in all of golf, the work of Dick Wilson, a tortured genius who designed the original layout. Doral pro Frank Strafaci, however, is actually credited with giving Doral’s Blue Course its “Blue Monster” moniker.

That’s what Strafaci called it after watching the 18th hole devour the hopes of so many tour pros that first year.

“This is a monster,” Strafaci told reporters. “A Blue Monster.”

And by the way, there’s history in the name Doral. It’s a combination of the first names of the resort’s original owners, Doris and Al Kaskel.

Yes, Doral’s Blue Monster got old, another victim of golf’s power surge, another casualty that got carved up with a facelift that altered its identity after Donald Trump bought it. Trump put the teeth back into the Blue Monster, with Gil Hanse his architect, but the nature of the test changed, with forced carries and all that extended water taking away some of the genius Wilson built into the design’s playability in high winds.

Who really knows why the PGA Tour cut its ties with Doral and moved its event to Mexico, whether it was solely a sponsorship issue or a Trump issue or some combination of both? It’s just a shame all the memories the PGA Tour’s greats built there are “lost in time, like tears in rain,” as director Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner said in the SciFi flick. It’s a shame we didn’t get to remember the best of times at Doral with a proper goodbye.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up right where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.