In the past decade, no two players have come close to winning as many tournaments worldwide as Woods and Els (both have more than 30). So it can certainly be argued that Doral and The Genuity combined to create something that those made-for-primetime TV shoot-outs could not: a true top-two battle.
This was not some fabricated contest. There was something real on the line here. Ernie had not won on the U.S. tour since the 2000 season and Tiger had not visited the PGA Tours winners circle in nearly six months.
A few years ago Raymond Floyd oversaw a facelift at Doral, adding and expanding bunkers to the point where there was so much sand that this Tour stop resembled the Dubai Desert Classic. Most players cringed at the New Blue, so this gem of a course was restored more closely to its historic roots. Now the raves are universal.
Prior to the 2002 Geunity, Tiger had played Doral only once. He finished tied for ninth in 1998. Tiger had not planned to play Doral this year, but poor showings on the West Coast and poor health that limited Woods schedule inspired him to tee it up in The Genuity. Thank goodness. I havent played here since the changes, Tiger said last Wednesday. Im looking forward to it.
The renovated, retro-Doral is a course players covet. It penalizes poor shots severely and rewards good play. There are no tricks on this track. And when that famous winter wind whips across the Florida peninsula, churning up all of that blue Doral water, shaking the sun-drenched palm trees to their roots, thats when we learn why this course earned the moniker 'Monster.'
On Saturday at Doral, the wind swirled and gusted. The average score for the field was two-over-par 74. Els bettered that average by eight strokes. His six-under 66 gave Ernie an eight-stroke lead heading to the final round. He must have been playing a different course than the rest of us, Nick Price said.
Yet, despite the huge lead Ernie held over Tiger heading to the final 18, neither Els nor Woods would admit the tournament was over. Anything can happen here, Ernie explained, Especially with Tiger. Hes come back on me before.
I just hope the wind keeps blowing, Woods said.
On Sunday everyone got what he wished for. The wind blew. Only the most precise strikes could produce the kind of round necessary to catch Els. Tiger almost pulled it off. He whittled the lead down to one stroke for a moment on Sunday, but Woods couldnt completely conquer the Monster and Ernie finally righted his ship.
Els would hang on to win by two after millions of viewers undoubtedly hung on the edges of their chairs, witnessing a thriller. Yeah, Im really glad I decided to come here, said Woods.
Yes, so were we.
One thought for the future of events at Doral: the LPGA Tour staged a tournament at Doral for the first time last year, but no Florida Swing for the ladies this year and, hence, no Doral. What a shame. Lets hope the LPGA returns to the beautiful Blue Monster. After all, what could be better than Els and Woods on Sunday? Well, how about Sorenstam and Webb?