Floridas Fab Four

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PGA Tour (75x100)In 2007 PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem took his bat and his glove headed for summer, that is to say he shuffled the competitive landscape by moving the Players Championship out of the Florida Swing, and Augusta Nationals consuming shadow, to the drier confines of May.
 
The fifth major got its bouncy conditions and an unobstructed view, and the four-event lineup that remained in the Sunshine State received a scheduling nip/tuck that continues to take shape. The new and improved version of the Florida Swing is much more demanding than the warm and fuzzy version that used to welcome players from the West Coast.
 
Whereas before the extreme makeover players headed east in search of warmer climes and easier conditions, the Tour arrives in Florida with white knuckles firmly gripping clubs and an indifference to what has become a sliding scale of success.
 
Theyre all pretty hard, Dudley Hart reasoned last Saturday following Round 2 of the WGC-CA Championship. This (Doral) is pretty good, its a different mix in each tournament.
 
Which among Floridas Fab Four Tour venues is the toughest remains a matter of opinion. What is not in doubt is the increased difficulty of the overall swing.
 
Since 2007 when the Players moved to May and the Tampa, Fla.-area stop filled the void, the collective scoring average for the swing was 6 over par (2007) and 2.76 over par (2008). By comparison, the average in 2006, when the swing included the Players, Doral, Bay Hill and Honda Classic was 1.8 over par, .56 over in 05 and 1.28 over in 04.
 
During the post-Players-move years, TPC Sawgrass anchored the swing, both literally and in scoring average, followed in order by Bay Hill, the Honda Classic venues ' a haphazard collection of residential layouts ' and Doral.
 
The modern swing, however, is the Benjamin Button-version of the old lineup. The Honda Classic leads off the swing with PGA National, statistically and consensually the most demanding of the current four.
 
Its almost reversed a little bit, Hart said. We start out at the toughest and kind of work our way backwards. It used to be the easiest to the hardest, now its reversed.
 
PGA National was the toughest of the four in 2008 (71.82 stroke average and ninth toughest on Tour), which dovetails with most players opinions,
 
The Honda stepped up big time, you could hold a major there, said Ken Duke.
 
In 2007 Bay Hill statistically ranked the toughest on the swing ' seventh toughest on Tour, one spot ahead of PGA National ' but some subtleties in the rankings are lost to the creative accounting of course set-up. After the 2006 tournament, Bay Hill officials lopped two strokes off par, rewriting the scorecard from a par 72 to 70, and jumped from 19th toughest in 06 to seventh in 07.
 
Doral may claim to be a Monster, but in the new swing its widely considered the meekest of the bunch, ranking the easiest among the four the last two years.
 
Everybody talks about (Doral), but there are only two or three really tough holes, Ben Curtis said. No. 1 is more like a par 4 and 18 is more like a par 5. This is the easiest we play in Florida.
 
Its a far cry from the fearsome layout that regularly ranked among the circuits most demanding when it debuted in the 1960s and 70s but the game and the swing have in some ways outgrown Doral.
 
Doral was probably harder before guys started hitting it so far and there was more rough, Hart said. (Doral) is a bombers course. If you can carry it 280 yards off the tee its always an advantage.
 
For the CA Championship, one player likened the rough to what is found at most resorts, that is to say non-existent, but in Dorals defense a lingering drought in south Florida limited the growing period. Officials also did not overseed the Blue Monster with winter grasses this year, making the layout play unusually hard and fast, which only made the long-hitters longer.
 
Overseed always plays easier, said Hart, noting that this weeks layout at Innisbrook and next week at Bay Hill will both be overseeded. The greens are always softer compared to non-overseeded Bermudagrass, which is the hardest thing to play out of. You get so many more flyers out that stuff.
 
The agronomic combination led to one of the lowest scoring averages in years (70.91) and a 19-under 269 winning total. There was more red, than blue at Doral, a dramatic shift in the way things used to be, but then change seems to be the only constant for a Florida Swing in flux.
 

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