The Pale Blue Monster

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MIAMI -- At 8:17 Monday morning, io the third hole of a sudden-death playoff, Scott Hoch lofted a gorgeous 9-iron to the 18th green at Doral. Thats right! A 9-iron. The 47-year-old stuck his approach to six feet and then drained his birdie putt to defeat Jim Furyk and collect his 11th career PGA Tour victory.
 
Oh, by the way, Furyk had also struck a 9-iron to the 18th. Yes, it appears the Blue Monster has been slain. Blame the physicists and engineers. Blame science. Blame technology.
 
One of the most famous finishing holes in golf is no more.
 
A plaque adjacent to the 18th tee at Doral reminds all who play here that this hole was once the most difficult on the PGA Tour - not just the toughest finishing hole, but the toughest hole of all on Tour.
 
Par-4, 443 yards, dogleg left. Off the tee: water left, trees and bunkers right. The approach: to an angled green where water laps at its edges.
 
The Blue Monster.
 
The hole became famous for what it wrought: players under Sunday pressure succumbing to the evil forces of the monster.
 
In recent times ' 1995 ' three-time Doral champion Greg Norman needed to par the 18th to win. The lake swallowed his approach, drowning his hopes.
 
In 1999, Greg Kraft needed par on 18 to force a playoff. The pressure created an embarrassingly fat 5-iron. The divot almost went as far as the ball, which dove into the lake. Krafts chance for his first win on tour sank to the bottom as well.
 
No, the Blue Monster aint what it used to be. What was once the toughest hole of all now isnt even the most difficult to play at Doral. Two par-3s and one other par-4 proved more difficult this past week at the Ford Championship.
 
What was once one of the most frightening holes to play in the world has become a mere challenge. Technology has ruined a lot of golf courses, said 25-year tour veteran Peter Jacobsen. You can blame it on the new ball - how far it goes.
 
Theyve added a few yards to the tee (on 18), said 49-year-old Jay Haas. But this week I hit 8-iron in when there was no wind and 6-iron into the wind. Twenty years ago Id be hitting 2- and 3-irons. Technology makes a big difference.
 
One statistic in particular illustrates just how much the new drivers and balls have changed the nature of Dorals 18th. In the third round of this years Ford Championship, the hole played to a stroke average that was under par. Seventeen birdies versus 15 bogeys. No doubles, no others. Some 35 years ago, the stroke average for number-18 was 4.66. Back then, it played tougher than all four of Dorals par-5.
 
During a practice round last Tuesday, the 18th was playing into the wind. 63-year-old Jack Nicklaus hit driver, 8-iron. Back in my prime, into the wind, said Jack, I would have probably hit 2-iron to 5-iron under the same conditions. Five-iron, maybe..
 
I think the biggest difference, said Davis Love, is that the new metal drivers carry the ball so much farther. Now on 18, I dont even worry about the lake off the tee. I can just blow it right over the corner.
 
The future is now. It has obliterated the past.