Except for Holmes, Blue Monster still a headache for players

By Rex HoggardMarch 6, 2015, 12:02 am

DORAL, Fla. – One by one players marched off Doral’s Blue Monster sun burnt, wind beaten and broken, until one frazzled caddie glanced at the leaderboard.

J.B. Holmes 10-under 62.

“Was that his pro-am score?” the looper cracked.

To the remainder of the 73-man field, however, Thursday was no joke.

Following last year’s carnage, when just three players finished under par, one would have thought the PGA Tour faithful would have readied themselves for another week of unfortunate bounces and unsightly scorecards, but if player reaction was any indication these guys may be good but they also have short memories.

“Ryan (Moore) and J.B. (Holmes), I don’t know what golf course they are playing,” said Gary Woodland, who trails the frontrunners by four and eight strokes, respectively, after an opening 70.

World Golf Championships rookie Brooks Koepka had a slightly different take.

“You kind of have to go into it with a U.S. Open mentality knowing that guys are going to struggle, you're going to struggle and you just have to minimize it and try to make bogeys at worst,” he said.

Savvy Swede Henrik Stenson may have had the best take of Gil Hanse’s redesigned layout.

“It’s very tough. It’s borderline stupid tough,” he said.

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Players complaining about a golf course has become as clichéd as fist pumps at the game’s highest level, and while the rank-and-file stopped just short of using the “U” word (unfair), it’s clear the Blue Course is an acquired taste that hasn’t hit the spot just yet.

When Hanse executed his nip/tuck of the Blue before the 2014 championship, he added nearly 200 yards to an already demanding layout. Factor in greens that remain on the bouncy side of new and there was little chance the revamped Doral would be awarded instant classic status.

But this isn’t about Hanse, or Donald Trump. At least not entirely. There’s nothing wrong with Doral that a calm south Florida day can’t fix, but those are as rare as a traffic-free commute to South Beach.

Consider that on Thursday Phil Mickelson rounded the Blue in 74 strokes and failed to make a birdie for the first time since the final round of the 2012 U.S. Open.

Consider that world No. 1 Rory McIlroy turned in 40 after finding the water with his approach into the 18th hole (his ninth hole of the day), the toughest 440 yards one could ever want, chipping his fourth shot off the green and signing for a double bogey-6.

In McIlroy’s defense, it was one of 12 scores of double bogey or worse on Day 1.

“For a person who likes to see disasters that’s a good place to go sit,” said Stenson, who also found the water at the closing hole for a bogey.

Such is life on the Blew Monster, where winds swirled and a total of 84 shiny new golf balls (including 19 at No. 18) found the ubiquitous water hazards.

Most players will tell you the Hanse edition of Doral is harder, but it is the wind that pushes it close to the edge of unplayable.

“I think it's a golf course that's designed for a 10 mph wind and usually you get a 20 mph wind here. It's a tough test,” McIlroy said.

Billy Horschel was not nearly as diplomatic with his assessment toward the new Blue or Hanse.

“As an architect you’d be smart to understand which direction the wind blows and how hard it can blow,” said Horschel, who was one of the lucky few (26 players) who finished at par or better (72). “I’ve never seen the course without a 15 to 20 mph wind. These greens aren’t made to be played in winds like this.”

Of course, not everyone found the course unsavory.

Holmes was one of just three players to finish his round without a bogey, and he distanced himself from the field with a 4-under stretch in three holes that included a tap-in for eagle at the 12th hole. The three-time Tour winner will begin Friday’s second turn four clear of Moore and a half dozen ahead of the rest of the pack.

“Before this (the redesign), I didn't care for it at all. One of my least favorite tracks on Tour,” said Holmes, who led the field with a 320-yard driving average. “It was just too easy, I felt like, for a World Golf Championship. Twenty-two under winning really shouldn't happen.”

At Holmes’ current pace that may still be a possibility, just don’t be surprised when his Tour frat brothers offer a familiar response, “What course is he playing?”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.