The WGC Cadillac Championship
For the first time in any type of golf tournament since his first full season on the PGA Tour in 1997 Tiger Woods is not first or second favourite this week. Both Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are quoted at shorter odds for the World Golf Championship Cadillac Championship but there are valid reasons to oppose all three and look to other players with more compelling credentials.
Woods can be backed at 14/1 to win the second WGC event of the season. Jason Day is just 20/1 to win the match play event and this championship in the same season but mental letdown after playing more than 100 holes over five days may make this a difficult task. Sergio Garcia has a great deal in his favour this week and winning at this level would set him up for trying to win that elusive first major championship.
The purpose of these world championship events it to attract the best players to compete against each other more often. Woods, Scott and Phil Mickelson did not play in the world match play but the top 30 in the world ranking are playing on the Blue Monster course in Doral that is the regular host of this prestigious championship. The best players in the world have been attracted by a huge prize fund and world ranking points.
The course was given the name Blue Monster due its length. However, in recent years it’s been more blue water than monster as water is in play on 12 holes. Various attempts have been made to recreate the difficulty of the course with extensive remodelling in 1996 and 2003. Now under the ownership of Donald Trump the latest project has been more about redesign than renovation.
Gil Hanse is the chief course designer for the Olympics in 2016 and was called in by Trump to bring Doral into the modern era. Even at above average in length the course was vulnerable to players with better equipment and the capacity to consistently drive the ball over 300 yards. Many holes underwent dramatic changes which means the course now requires accuracy and length of the tee.
The average winning score over the last six years has been 18 under. For a par 72 track that does not mean birdie fests but the organisers want to present a challenge to the world’s best players that is more in keeping with a major than a regular tour event. Despite the various redesigns one factor has remained constant and that is the record of players with Florida connections.
Traditionally the event has opened the Florida Swing but the Honda Classic was played in the state last week. Even so a number of players will have to adjust to the greens after playing on a different variety of grass in California over the last few weeks. The course is still a fearsome test for all and that is why experienced players have a good record at Doral.
The tournament was first played as a WGC event in 1999. Woods is a six times winner, Ernie Els has won twice and Geoff Ogilvy and Phil Mickelson have also recorded wins for the older generation. Of the fourteen winners all but one, Nick Watney in 2013, were current or future major champions when they recorded wins. In a field with the depth of a major a winner of one of the four most prestigious events of the year could be the champion this week.
Woods, McIlroy and Scott have all won majors. Woods has won 14 of the big prizes, McIlroy is the youngest player to win two since Seve Ballesteros and Adam Scott was the first Australian player to win the US Masters last April. However with doubts about all three I would betting on a non-major winner this week as this means we would have Garcia and Day on our side in this market.
For the fourth time in five years Woods withdrew from a golf tournament when he failed to complete his fourth round of the Honda Classic last Sunday. He walked off the course after playing the 13th, citing back spasms as the reason for his departure. He was five over at the time after playing the front nine in 40 strokes with four bogeys and a double bogey on his card.
Woods would probably swap 10 Cadillac Championships for that elusive 15th major so he won’t risk playing just five weeks before the US Masters if not fully fit. At the time of writing he is still quoted in the betting but he will have treatment up until the start of play on Thursday. In these circumstances he will have few backers but those tempted by the price should ensure their stake will be refunded if Tiger is a non-runner.
For most of the week it looked like McIlroy was going to redress the balance of his reputation in the Honda Classic. Despite winning the event in 2012 he will always be remembered for walking off the course during his second round last year. The public relations disaster was made worse by an explanation that he had a toothache despite being seen chomping on a sandwich earlier in his round.
McIlroy led the Honda Classic by two shots ahead of the final round last Sunday. A two over par 74 got him into a four man play-off which Russell Henley won after one extra hole. Despite a disappointing final day it was still a good week overall for McIlroy. No player outscored him in regulation play and only a missed putt from 12 feet on the final green prevented him making it two wins in the last three years. However, mental letdown after such a disappointment may hinder him this week.
Scott has some decent course form to his name but in playing a light schedule he arrives in Miami with just one outing in 72 hole events in the last five weeks. His objective this week will be to hone his game head of his defence of the US Masers. He doesn’t figure in the top 50 for the three key skills areas which means other players are more suited to this week’s challenge, but that does not necessarily include Woods and McIlroy.