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Punch Shot: Most intriguing storylines at Doral

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The PGA Tour continues its trek up Florida, on its road to Augusta, Ga. This week's stop is at Doral, site of the WGC-Cadillac Championship. There are no shortage of storylines this week outside Miami, and GolfChannel.com writers offer up their best.

By REX HOGGARD

At just 24 years young, Rory McIlory has shown a penchant for resilience, which should make this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship that much more compelling.

Call it a bounce-back start following his collapse on Sunday at the Honda Classic, where he double bogeyed the 16th hole, bogeyed the 17th hole and eventually lost a playoff to Russell Henley.

Following what had been an unforgettable 2013, McIlroy looked to be on the mend in ’14 with top-20 finishes in his first five events, including last week’s runner-up showing at PGA National. How he responds to Sunday’s swoon will be a telling moment in the Ulsterman’s return to the top.

We spotted McIlroy on Monday, less than 24 hours after his Honda Classic letdown, at the Seminole Member-Pro in Juno Beach, Fla., and he didn’t look like a man who had endured a difficult night.

Throughout McIlroy’s young career his ability to rebound has been his strongest asset. In 2011, two months after closing with an 80 at the Masters, he rolled to an eight-stroke victory at the U.S. Open, ditto for his victory at the 2012 PGA Championship, also by eight strokes, which came on the heels of a particularly poor performance at the Open Championship.

It’s the comeback not the collapse that has come to define McIlroy.


By RANDALL MELL

Outside of what’s up with Tiger Woods, the big question early at Trump Doral is whether players will embrace the redesign of the Blue Monster.

The early reviews of Gil Hanse’s work are strong, but the real measure of what he and Donald Trump did making over Dick Wilson’s classic - but aging - design will be determined by the pros teeing it up at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

And don’t take too much stock in the first impressions, what players are saying through practice rounds, and even through Friday. Wait until week’s end, after they’ve experienced a full week of the new Blue Monster.

When Raymond Floyd redesigned the course in ’97, players panned it. Wilson’s design really needed a makeover, but players have comfort zones, and they don’t necessarily like change. The biggest adjustments they’ll have to make this week is to the greens, where dramatic change awaits them.

The reviews offered by Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods will carry great weight, and so will the leaderboard come late Sunday afternoon, always a good measure of the kind of test a course offers.


By JASON SOBEL

I’m looking forward to seeing whether Adam Scott can claim the world’s No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career this week.

Our OWGR guru estimates that the Masters champion needs to win the WGC-Cadillac Championship with current No. 1 Tiger Woods finishing at least outside the top five. Each of those is a very real possibility, with Scott cruising to a T-12 result at the Honda Classic this past weekend while Woods withdrew with a back injury.

When I recently asked Scott if he’d be thinking about this prospect throughout the year, he joked that he wasn’t smart enough to even figure out the math behind it, but yes, it was something he thought about and aspired to. Coincidentally, I was speaking with Greg Norman – a mentor of sorts over the years for Scott – about a different subject just prior to writing this, but he surreptitiously had a great take on it without ever addressing it directly.

“I never wanted to be the best in the world,” said the man ranked No. 1 for 331 weeks of his career. “I just wanted to be the best I could be.”

Scott might be wise to keep that perspective in mind while trying to ascend to that position this week. He might not know the math behind it, but he’ll know that becoming the best in the world is a very real possibility.


By RYAN LAVNER

Easy – the health of Tiger Woods.

His status may be “up in the air” for the WGC event, per a media report, but the moving of his pre-tournament news conference from Tuesday to Wednesday suggests that he at least intends to play. It depends on how his back responds to treatment. It depends on whether he believes he can get through all 72 holes without incident. It depends on whether he’s willing to risk another injury and being sidelined indefinitely with the Masters only five weeks away.  

Teeing it up blind at Doral, without a practice round, would be a curious move after the drastic changes ordered by Donald Trump, even if Woods has the best history there of any player in the field (four wins and nine top-10s in 10 starts). But with only two scheduled starts until the Masters, simply completing all 72 holes would count as a small victory.