DORAL, Fla. – Matt Kuchar got to Doral’s 18th tee and immediately groaned.
He wasn’t alone.
The finishing hole at the Blue Monster was downright nasty Thursday in the opening round of the CA Championship, playing nearly a half-stroke over par – making it the toughest on a windy course. In a field with most of the world’s best players, Tiger Woods the notable exception, No. 18 at Doral yielded only five birdies in 68 attempts, with 4.647 being the average score on the par 4.
– Vijay Singh led by one when he got to 18. He made double bogey.
– Francesco Molinari, tied for the lead when he got there. Double bogey.
– Ernie Els, tied for the top spot near the end of the day. Bogey.
In all, there were 18 shots into the water on No. 18. And only when the wind dropped considerably near the very end of the day did the scoring average improve.
The final total: 26 pars, 26 bogeys, 10 double bogeys, and Marc Leishman with a triple bogey after hitting both his tee shot and an approach into the water running down the left side.
“You’re not going to see many birdies,” Kuchar said. “It’s a mean golf hole. We got up to the tee and we expected it, as hard as it was blowing … I expected to see the tees up 30 yards or so and they were up only 10 yards. They could have moved it up 20 yards and it still would have been the toughest hole on the golf course.”
Luke Donald chipped in from a greenside bunker for the first birdie at No. 18 – no surprise, considering he’s 19 of 21 on sand-save attempts this year, after leading the PGA Tour in that statistic last year.
John Senden stuck his approach inside of 2 feet about an hour later for a tap-in 3.
The other three birdies all came near the very end of the round: Steve Stricker made a 45-footer, Padraig Harrington a 15-footer and Dustin Johnson a 10-footer. Not coincidentally, the wind was a touch calmer then, though still blowing.
How strong were the gusts? Put it this way: Masters champion Angel Cabrera walked up 18 holding his cap, about five minutes after a ticket-holder’s hat blew halfway across the fairway.
“It was consistent all day,” first-round leader Charl Schwartzel said. “Consistently strong.”
LEFTY’S DAY: Defending champion Phil Mickelson had three birdies and two bogeys, opening his quest for a second straight win at Doral with a 1-under 71.
He ended the day four shots back, and with no complaints.
“I mean, I know it’s not in contention yet, but my goal was to shoot something somewhat solid today, which I felt I did, and then improve on it every day,” Mickelson said. “So I’ve got to go lower each day.”
He thinks he has the game plan to make that happen.
Mickelson is carrying two drivers this week, something he’s done before – most notably, on his way to winning the Masters in 2006. He’s also tried playing with no drivers, like at the first two rounds of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, something that was widely regarded as a mistake.
This year, he’s planning to go the two-driver route more, putting both his Callaway FT-9 and FT-5 in the bag. Including at Augusta National.
“The driver that I have, the FT-9, it hits the ball long and far, but it’s also very high, and has great carry,” said Mickelson, who took out a 57-degree wedge to accommodate the second driver. “A course like Doral, where it’s very windy, this driver helps keep it down out of the wind, as well as it doesn’t go quite as far as my current driver.”
Mickelson never shot lower than 69 at Doral last year on his way to the $1.4 million winner’s check.
He didn’t play a practice round at Doral this week, because of family responsibilities in Houston with wife Amy, who’s been fighting breast cancer. Mickelson said his wife is doing well.
MOLINARI, MOLINARI: Italy’s Molinari brothers got off to solid starts Thursday.
Francesco Molinari shot a 3-under 69, three shots better than Edoardo Molinari. Edoardo had one of the shots of the day, holing out from 149 yards at the par-4 17th for eagle, helping him get back on track after making bogeys on two of the previous three holes.
They’ll both play at the Masters next month. They’ve been there together before; Edoardo played there after winning the U.S. Amateur in 2005 (and getting paired with Tiger Woods the following year). Francesco Molinari was his brother’s caddie for that trip to Augusta National.
WEATHER WOES: Tee times have been moved up nearly 3 1/2 hours on Friday because of expected afternoon thunderstorms.
Forecasters say up to an inch of rain could fall on South Florida during the day, with the worst of the weather expected later in the day. If everything goes off as scheduled, second-round play at Doral could be wrapped up by about 2:30 p.m.
NOTES: Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was among those watching Thursday. … Robert Allenby closed with four straight bogeys, the most he has strung together since opening the second round of the 2009 Memorial with five straight. That came after he shot a 30 on the front nine, one off the nine-hole course record set by Tom Kite in 1974 and matched by Kite in 1979.