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Taming the Monster

WGC-Cadillac ChampionshipDORAL, Fla. – Martin Kaymer looked determined to extend his reign as the No. 1 player in the world during Thursday’s first round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

He hit every fairway but one over the 10 holes he played before play was suspended with darkness falling. He hit every green in regulation but one. He one-putted seven times and was 5 under, just two shots off the lead when the horn blew halting the round.

“A fantastic start,” Kaymer said. “It was not that difficult today.

“A bunch of people are under par, and a bunch of people are 3 or 4 under. It doesn’t seem that difficult.”

Somebody run up a white flag over the Blue Monster.

The old beast got beat up in the first round.

Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald
Martin Kaymer one-putted seven times in 10 holes on Thursday. (Getty Images)
First Mother Nature tore through, with a fierce storm’s 55-mph winds blowing apart the “Monster” leaderboard overlooking the 18th green and knocking over two TV towers, a ShotLink tower and a bunch of trees. When the weather subsided and the winds calmed, the world’s best players took their turns tearing up the place.

Forty-four players were under par in the 66-player field when play was suspended at 6:17 p.m. ET.

Hunter Mahan is the leader at 7 under and still has seven holes to finish when the first round resumes at 8:30 on Friday morning. He birdied six of his first eight holes. With a good weather forecast Friday, Mahan is looking like he’ll have a chance at the course-record 61 Stephen Ames shot in 2000.

A week after being pummeled at PGA National in the Honda Classic, golf’s best are delivering the blows.

“Good players and a good golf course and benign conditions, you're going to have some good scores,” Mahan said.

Kaymer was in a marquee grouping featuring the No. 1, No. 2 (Lee Westwood) and No. 3 (Luke Donald) players in the world. They looked deserving of their lofty status. Donald equaled Kaymer at 5 under with Westwood right behind at 4 under.

The trio put on a terrific display of shot making for a smallish gallery. With swarms of fans hustling after the Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell threesome, the world’s top three players pulled fewer than 100 fans around the course despite playing much better golf.

It didn’t matter, though, the folks who did follow Nos. 1-2-3 were treated to an entertaining show.

Scott Dunlap, a Champions Tour pro who nearly won at Doral in 1999, followed the top trio as part of the gallery. He marveled at how easy Kaymer was making the game look.

“He looks as natural and unthinking as Tiger Woods makes it look difficult with too much thinking,” Dunlap said.

Woods struggled early, making a bogey while failing to make a birdie over his first nine holes before rallying with two birdies after making the turn. Woods is 1 under through 15 holes.

Dunlap, who played the PGA Tour when Woods was at the height of his powers, said he’s surprised how difficult the game looks now for Woods.

“He was the best in the world,” Dunlap said. “I don’t understand how he goes to something that does not even resemble what he was doing when he was at his best. Tiger had it, he doesn’t have it anymore.”

Kaymer’s got the No. 1 ranking, and Westwood’s the only player who can take it away from him this week. Kaymer doesn’t look like he’s going to make it easy for Westwood, who can seize back the top ranking with a victory, no matter what Kaymer does. Westwood has a chance to overtake Kaymer by finishing among the top four at Doral, depending how Kaymer finishes.

The battle for No. 1 promises to be a birdie fest with the Blue Monster flying a white flag.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell