As the PGA Tour swung over to Florida, it did so with plenty of buzz about the sports Big 4. Phil Mickelson had already won twice, while Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh each had one win. Ernie Els had come close to victory at the Mercedes Championships and Sony Open, finishing in the top 3 in both events.
Woods and Mickelson, the No. 2 and 4 players in the world, respectively, were paired together in the final round at Doral. Mickelson held a two-stroke lead over Woods with 18 holes to play, with Woods four clear of third place.
Adding to the intrigue was the fact that the two ' never good friends ' were a complete bust as partners in the previous years Ryder Cup, going 0-2.
It was a true showdown; and proved to be a true shootout.
Woods cut his deficit to one by the turn, shooting 3-under 33 on the front side to Mickelsons 2-under 34. He then evened the match with a birdie at the par-5 10th.
Woods took the lead with an eagle at the par-5 12th, but Mickelson responded with birdies on 13 and 14 to again create a tie. Both men bogeyed the 16th, leaving the two at 23 under with two holes to play.
On the par-4 17th, Woods made a 28-foot putt for birdie to take the lead, and then watched as Mickelsons birdie chip on the 72nd hole lipped out. Tigers 3-foot par save on the final hole sealed an impressive and entertaining one-stroke victory.
The Blue Monster has been host to one of the more memorable regular tournaments each of the last four years. In 2002, Els held a commanding lead through three rounds at Doral and then had to hold off a hard-charging Woods on Sunday.
The following year, Scott Hoch defeated Jim Furyk in a playoff that was carried over to Monday when Hoch decided that it was too dark to finish it on Sunday. And two years ago, Craig Parry holed a 6-iron from 176 yards to shock Scott Verplank in sudden death.
This is Fords final year as tournament sponsor. Next year, the event will be among the World Golf Championship events and will take the current spot of The Players Championship on the PGA Tours FedEx Cup schedule.
Even without WGC status this year, Doral will again play host to a top-notch field, as the top seven players in the world are scheduled to compete.
Of course, Woods and Mickelson are the favorites, but here are five more players that could give them a run come late Sunday afternoon:
Els usually wins around this time of year; though, it usually comes on the European Tour. Els hasnt competed in this event since his 2002 victory because hes been collecting appearance fees and first-place checks in the Middle East. This will be Els third consecutive PGA Tour start. He tied for 23rd at the Nissan Open and then was ousted in the first round of last weeks WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. In addition to his triumph his last time around Doral, he also has a tie for third in 1999.
Woods and Mickelson may have been the headliners at last years Ford Championship, but there were plenty of notable names among the supporting cast. Vijay Singh, David Toms, Jose Maria Olazabal, Retief Goosen and Furyk all finished inside the top 10. For Furyk, it was his fourth top-10 finish in his last five starts at Doral. He lost to Hoch in the 2003 playoff, won the event in 2000, and tied for ninth in 1998. Like Els, he also exited early from La Costa, which means he should be well rested and ready to compete again. He has finished in the top 30 in all four of his stroke-play events this year, including a third-place showing at the Mercedes and a tie for seventh at the Sony.
Johnson is the man who gave Furyk some extra time off last week, knocking him out in the first round of the Match Play. Johnson, who is still in search of his second tour title, received a huge confidence boost at La Costa. He made it to the semi-finals before losing to Davis Love III but rebounded with a 1-up win over Tom Lehman in the consolation match. Johnson missed the cut in his Ford debut in 2004, but rebounded with a tie for third a year ago, shooting 64-67 over the weekend.
Woods and Mickelson overpowered the Monster last year, shooting 24 and 23 under, respectively. Thats just what Holmes would like to do this time around. Holmes dominated the competition ' and the course ' down the stretch in his FBR Open victory. He was supposed to play alongside Woods in the third round of the Nissan, but Woods withdrew due to illness and left both Holmes and fans disappointed. This will be his first start on the par-72, 7,266-yard layout.
If the Ford becomes another shootout, then Calcavecchia may have enough bullets to survive. Calc has a tendency to go low at times, as evidenced by his 28-under showing in Phoenix in 2001. He hasnt posted any really low numbers thus far this year, but he has made the cut in each of his first four tournaments. He has played this event 23 times, and has five top-10s compared to only three missed cuts. His best showing came in a playoff loss to Greg Norman in 1990. He tied for 26th last year and tied for ninth in 2004.