Redesigned Blue Monster unveiled

By Randall MellFebruary 7, 2014, 11:37 pm

DORAL, Fla. – The Blue Monster won’t be relying on tropical winter winds as its sole defense anymore.

The redesigned Trump Doral Blue Monster unveiled to the media Thursday is bigger, grander and tougher than the aging Dick Wilson design played as home to the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

The course is also more visually appealing, more the beauty and beast that Wilson imagined when he built it in 1961, before high-tech clubs and balls emasculated his classic test.

While the early media reviews of the redesign are strong, the real measure of what owner Donald Trump and architect Gil Hanse have created will be judged by PGA Tour pros coming to play the Blue Monster in a month. They can be brutally difficult to please.

Will they embrace it?

Or will they pan it?

“No. 1, I want to hear that it’s fair,” Trump said. “If you hit good shots, you will be rewarded for good shots.

“The word fairness is important. I really believe the great players are going to find it very fair.”

What Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy say about the redesign will leave a lasting impression on Hanse’s work. The last time Doral ownership sought to toughen the Blue Monster, with Ray Floyd redesigning it in '97, players mostly hated. Floyd added a load of giant new bunkers, shrinking landing areas and toughening approach shots.

“They butchered a good course as bad as I’ve ever seen,” Scott Hoch, Doral’s ’03 champ, said back then.

That redesign was met with so much backlash, Doral’s ownership hired Jim McLean to basically undo all of Floyd’s changes and return the course to the original Wilson look.

Rocco Mediate, who won the Doral-Ryder Open in 1991, is betting there will be a completely different player reaction this time around.

“It’s fantastic,” said Mediate, who played the course Wednesday with Trump. “Donald doesn’t do things that aren’t fantastic. Gil Hanse did a great job. If the guys don’t like Doral now, they should never be invited back.”

Without the wind, golf’s best have been making the Blue Monster look like the Blue Marshmallow, going low in birdie binges. Mediate doesn’t see that happening now.

“Not anymore,” he said. “Now, you’ve got to play.”

The Blue Monster was lengthened, but that’s just part of the strategic element Hanse brought back to the course. Wilson’s design was originally all about the angles. He built a course full of doglegs with punishing bunkering in the elbows. He angled greens awkwardly, making approaches narrower than they appeared. Wilson’s angles were ultimately lost with today’s players bombing drives over the bunkering in the corners of his doglegs and then using wedges to take the awkwardness out of his targets.

“That driving-all-over-the-course crap doesn’t work anymore,” Mediate said. “It’s a real course now.”

Hanse put meaningful angles back into the Blue Monster’s design. While managing to put his own distinct fingerprints on the redesign, Hanse also managed to restore the strategic feel Wilson created.

Of course, nobody knows what Dick Wilson would say about the redesign. Wilson died in 1965. His chief assistant on the project, Robert von Hagge, died four years ago.

While Hanse originally sought to recreate and preserve Wilson’s intentions, his work evolved with Trump pushing for a bigger and grander makeover through the process.

“I think we started with a restoration in mind, but as we really opened the place up, it became more of a redesign, and at this point in time it’s a brand new course,” Hanse said.

What players have loved about Doral through the years is how fair it played in those prevailing tropical winter winds. They could get around hitting the knockdown shots those winds required, with Wilson giving them manageable pathways through the wind. That was a stark contrast to what players hated about the Honda Classic in the late '80s and early '90s, when it was played the week after Doral at the TPC Eagle Trace, just up the road in south Florida. Forced carries over a lot of water in heavy winds off the Everglades drove players crazy at Eagle Trace. Greg Norman called it “carnival golf.”

Hanse made the Blue Monster tougher in part by adding a lot more water. On Wilson’s design, water came into play on six holes. On Hanse’s redesign, water is a major factor on at least 10 holes.

The 15th and 16th holes were made more dramatic adding water. Hanse transformed the 15th  from what had become a nondescript par 3 into a challenging short par 3 with a peninsula green. The 16th is a short par 4 with a small lake left of the fairway and in front of the green. The eighth, ninth and 10th holes are all more dramatically reconfigured around water.

The famed 18th is pretty much the same fearsome test Wilson created. Hanse preserved it while still enhancing it. A neat new row of palm trees more tightly lines the right side of the fairway now, better framing and shaping the tee shot.

The Blue Monster will no doubt make a strong first impression on Tour pros coming in next month. The lasting nature of that impression will emerge as Woods, Mickelson, Els and McIlroy and others try to win a trophy there.

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Pepperell wins his first European Tour title in Qatar

By Associated PressFebruary 25, 2018, 3:31 pm

DOHA, Qatar - Eddie Pepperell survived a tense finish to win the Qatar Masters at the Doha Golf Club on Sunday for his maiden European Tour title.

The 27-year-old Englishman held off a spirited challenge from compatriot Oliver Fisher, who needed a third successive birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff, but had his putt from six feet slip past the hole for a par.

Pepperell shot a 2-under-par 70 for a four-day tally of 18 under 270, while Fisher, who started the day tied for the lead, could only manage a 71.

Sweden's Marcus Kinhult (68) finished third at 16-under.

The No. 154-ranked Pepperell made things difficult for himself with a bogey on the 15th hole, but hit a superb wedge to three feet on the next to get back to 18 under again.

Fisher, who appeared to have fallen out of contention with three bogeys starting on the third hole, stormed back with birdies on the 14th, 16th and 17th holes.

On the last, Pepperell laid up with his second into the thick rough, made wet and unwieldy by rain in the Qatar capital, but found the green in three and two-putted for the win when Fisher missed his birdie putt.

Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

''I did the things I needed to do, I didn't play fantastic but I won ugly and for the first win to be ugly is good. Hopefully, I'll have some prettier ones in the future,'' said Pepperell.

''I knew I was playing well, especially tee to green, so I expected a lot of myself this week and I guess to pull it off is amazing. When Oli birdied the 17th, that was when it really caught up with me that I was only one ahead. I was in my own zone, I knew I had a couple of shots of lead but Oli did great. It was a tough front nine for him and I had to stay right in my own way and out of the two guys' way because they were struggling a bit and it's sometimes easy to get dragged into that.''

Fisher was disappointed, but saw the silver lining in the way he fought back.

''It went all the way to the last hole which, after my front nine, was what I was hoping for on the back nine,'' said Fisher, who won the 2011 Czech Open, but recorded his first top-three finish since the 2014 Africa Open.

''I hit a lot of good shots coming down the back nine and gave myself a lot of good chances, but there were just too many bogeys today, four in total, so you're never going to win a tournament making that many mistakes on a Sunday. But at least I pressed him all the way.''

Italian Renato Paratore (66) had the low round of the day and finished tied for fourth place at 15 under par, where he was joined by the Spanish pair of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Larrazabal along with Gregory Havret of France.

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J. Korda sets record in LPGA Thailand win

By Associated PressFebruary 25, 2018, 3:23 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand - Florida's Jessica Korda set a tournament record to win the LPGA Thailand at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course on Sunday.

Korda held off Lexi Thompson and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn for a four-stroke win after a final-round 67 for an overall total of 25 under 263, smashing the previous mark of 22 under set by Amy Yang of South Korea in 2017.

''It's an incredible thing to be able to win again. I haven't won in two years. And who knows? It's so hard out here. These girls are so good. I mean, look at the scoreboard. I had to shoot 25 under just to win,'' said Korda after claiming her fifth LPGA win.

It was Korda's first trophy since winning in Malaysia in 2015.

Ranked No. 26, Korda had surgery on an overbite in December and was playing in her first tournament since November.

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

''I just came with no expectations after surgery. It's really hard for me to move. All this stuff is just still really hard, but I'm really, really happy that I chose to come back in this event exactly where I started my rookie year in 2011. I don't think I could have asked for a better win,'' she said.

Thompson, who won here in 2016, turned in a bogey free round that included eight birdies to sign off with a 64 for a 21 under 267.

''I had to just fire at everything today and make a lot of birdies because Jessica has been playing amazing, along with a lot of other people. So that's what I did. I just went after it,'' said No. 4-ranked Thompson.

Moriya, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, almost caught up with Korda after nine holes when she closed to within two shots, but her challenge faded and she failed to become the first Thai winner of the tournament. Moriya finished with a final-round 67 for an overall 21 under 267.

''I wasn't sad at all. It was fun playing with Jessica. It's been a fun week. I already tried my best. Whatever happened this week is cool,'' said Moriya, who has yet to win on the LPGA tour.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”