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Revamped Blue Monster, strong winds make for tough day at Doral

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DORAL, Fla. – Of all the things Donald Trump buttoned up before this week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, the weatherman apparently didn’t get the memo.

A storm rolled through south Florida about three hours into the opening round and halted play for nearly 2 ½ hours, sending The Don’s grand opening off script. Luckily for the boss, the play on the course maintained the status quo.

In CliffsNotes form, Russell Henley picked up where he left off after winning his second PGA Tour title last week up the road at PGA National; Rory McIlroy showed that good play can overcome a momentary lapse; and Tiger Woods is still not firing on all cylinders.

The good news for Woods, he has three more days to figure things out as long as his ailing back, and the forecast, continues to cooperate.

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Only six players completed the opening round before play was halted by darkness just after 6 p.m.

Harris English was among those who finished. He closed with a birdie at the par-3 ninth hole – he started on No. 10 – for a 3-under 69 and the clubhouse lead.

Winds gusted to 25 mph before and after the weather delay, making the revamped Blue Monster even tougher.

“It was blowing so much harder,” said Hunter Mahan, who was 3 under through 15 holes when play was called for the day. “I was looking at my book all day off the tee to figure out where I could hit it, where the runoffs were going to be and figure out what clubs I was going to hit. It definitely made it challenging.”

First-round play is scheduled to resume at 8:45 a.m. on Friday, but things don’t look as if they will be getting any easier. And that was Trump and architect Gil Hanse’s master plan. Consider the new and improved Blue Monster a mission accomplished.

Just 19 players, including Henley at 2 under, were under par when darkness fell, compared to 40 players in the red through 18 holes last year at the World Golf Championship. Included in that group was McIlroy, who blew a late lead last week at the Honda Classic, but he didn’t seem fazed by his Sunday swoon.

“I'm playing well and I'm comfortable with my game. So I wasn't going to let one bad day last week sort of derail the good path that I'm on,” said McIlroy, who was at 1 under through 14 holes.

But if wind, rain and waiting were the stars of Thursday’s show, the nip/tucked Blue Monster was the top supporting actor.

“In general they have brought a lot of strategy into play on the golf course,” said Jason Dufner, who has three holes to play and was one of five players at 3 under. “This used to be a golf course where you grab your driver on every hole, swing for the fences and play from there. You can't get away with that here at Doral anymore.”

Woods was one of the players who found the going tough on Thursday, but at least this time when he made an early exit it wasn’t to withdraw. The world No. 1 struggled to find fairways, but so did most of the field on a windswept day.

Woods also had difficulty with the new greens, but his ailing back, which forced him off the course last Sunday after 13 holes at the Honda Classic, wasn’t an issue.

“My warm-up was good, and I felt good all day even through the delay,” said Woods, who was 2 over par through 10 holes. “I’m ready to go back out tomorrow and play well.”

Some players were surprised that Round 1 reconvened following the mid-day storm. Initially, players were told the rain would continue throughout the afternoon and there was little chance play would resume.

English retreated to his room at the redesigned resort and was contemplating a nap when he got the call, but at least he didn’t have far to go to get back to work.

Jonas Blixt had left the property and was in a nearby Five Guys ordering a late lunch when he got the call.

“He had to run back out here,” laughed English, who was paired with Blixt on Day 1.

And the rest of the week looks like it will be a similar scramble for players and officials with a forecast for more storms over the next two days. Mother Nature, it seems, didn’t get Trump’s memo.