DORAL, Fla. – It’s official, the bigger, badder Doral is the Daytona International Speedway of the PGA Tour.
The latest iteration of the Blue Monster is a sprawling track that yields only to power and the looming notion that participants are always just a single turn away from disaster.
Consider that your win (Johnson), place (Holmes) and show (Watson) combined to hit 10,722 yards worth of drives for the week. Or, to put that in context, the PGA Tour’s original “bash brothers” hit over six miles of drives for the week.
“It lives up to its name. Before [the redesign] I didn’t think it did,” Holmes said of the new Blue.
More so than any other golf course on Tour, Doral rewards power. It was no surprise that the week ended with the game’s three longest dueling down the stretch on a windblown and rain-lashed layout.
Holmes began the day with a five-stroke lead. Within an hour he was tied with Watson after bogeys at three of his first six holes. Before the turn he was trailing Watson by two, a seven-shot swing in seven holes.
His closing 75 was 13 strokes higher than his course-record tying 62 and left him alone in second place at 8 under par, a stroke behind Johnson.
“I knew if I shot 72, that would probably be good enough. That's kind of what I was going to, to be honest with you, I thought probably 2 or 3 over would have been enough,” Holmes said.
Watson was next to stumble with back-to-back bogeys after finding five bunkers in two holes (Nos. 11 and 12). Consider it karma, either instant or otherwise, for a player who just two days earlier squared his relationship with the redesigned Blue Monster by saying, “I can't stand the golf course. It's way too tough for me.”
But then Bubba was hardly the only frat brother grousing about Gil Hanse’s handiwork. Few could have blamed Rory McIlroy for a well-placed shot or two considering for the week he pumped nearly two sleeves of Nike golf balls (five, to be exact) into Doral’s murky lagoons, not to mention a rather well-traveled 3-iron.
On Sunday before McIlroy teed off, Doral owner Donald Trump presented the world No. 1 with the 3-iron he deposited into the lake adjacent the eighth fairway during Friday’s second round. The Don had the club fished from the depths by a diver and returned to the Northern Irishman.
But McIlroy was more interested in rediscovering his dominant form in the run up to the Masters than a rescued club following a solid, if not spectacular, week in South Florida.
“[Caddie J.P. Fitzpatrick] said to me on the last green, ‘I think we left our game in the desert [Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where he won and finished second, respectively, to start his year].’ It’s still back there,” said McIlroy, who closed with an even-par 72 to tie for ninth. “Just playing quite conservatively which is very much unlike me.”
With the golf gods being how they are it was also no surprise that Holmes, who blasted the nip/tucked first hole on Friday, would eventually fall away, as well.
That left Johnson, who holed a crucial 10 footer for par at the 14th hole, and he pulled away with a 13 footer for birdie at the next.
“I really wasn't paying much attention. I knew Bubba was playing well. I knew where I was, I was playing pretty well,” said Johnson, who closed the week with rounds of 69 to extend his winning streak to eight consecutive years, the longest active streak on Tour. “This golf course is so tough, you never know what's going to happen.”
For Johnson, however, his ninth Tour victory went well beyond the box score. The last 12 months have been the most tumultuous of his professional career, a span that included a six-month, self-imposed hiatus from the game to deal with “personal challenges,” and a published report, citing an anonymous source, that he had been suspended by the Tour for failing a drug test.
Johnson denied the report. The Tour denied the report, and when he returned to the fold last month at Torrey Pines he talked of self-improvement and misplaced priorities.
“I've been working hard on my game and been working hard on me, and so it means a great deal to have some success right out of the gate. It gives me a lot of confidence,” said Johnson, who won in his fifth start back on Tour.
Late Sunday as he finished his round by bashing his drive 317 yards into the heart of the toughest par 4 on Tour this season, the undisputed king of the long ball put away any lingering doubt regarding his future or Doral’s status as golf’s preeminent super speedway.