In fierce and relentless wind on the TPC Blue Monster at Doral, Adam Scott kept the ball in play and then hung on for dear life for a six-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Jason Dufner in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
“When you’re in the fairway on a day like today, you get a chance to hit it somewhere near the hole, give yourself an opportunity,” Scott said. “If you’re in the rough, it’s very hard to even just hit the green, let alone give yourself a chance. I took advantage of the good shots early on, and then battled by way in from there.”
It was a battle all day at the World Golf Championship event for Rory McIlroy in his first event as world No. 1. He twice flirted with the water, had a three-putt bogey and wound up with a one-over 73.
Tiger Woods was not much better. He began his round with a tap-in eagle on the par-five first hole, but narrowly missed the fairways and had a tough time figuring out the wind and whether the ball would jump out of the rough. Woods badly misjudged the line of his chip on the 18th hole and closed with a bogey for an even-par 72.
However, it was not a devastating start for either of them.
Only a dozen players managed to break 70 and a dozen more broke par. The average score on the day war 72.7 and no hole was more terrifying that the par-four 18th, which was 471 yards dead into the wind, water hugging the entire left side of the hole and front of the green.
The average score on 18 was 4.74, which was more than three of the par-fives.
“I hit [a] three-wood into 18, par-four, and [a] seven-iron into the first, which is a par-five,” Luke Donald said after a 70. “Just a beast of a hole today.”
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel made a par on 18 and his reaction spoke volumes.
“Felt like an eagle,” he said. “It’s one of those where you just really have to take it on. There’s nowhere out. I probably hit my best tee shot of the day down there, a beautiful five-iron and ran off there with a four. I’m very happy.”
Schwartzel and Thomas Bjorn were at 68, while the group at 69 included Keegan Bradley and Steve Stricker, who was tied for the lead through 12 holes and dropped three shots in the final hour.
“The course is playable. You can see it in the scores,” Stricker said. “It’s still playable, whether we have this kind of wind or not. So it’s manageable out there and you just have to play hard and play well.”
Sergio Garcia had the ugliest finish of all.
The Spaniard was one shot out of the lead through 12 holes. He did not hit a fairway the rest of the way nor did he make so much as a par. He followed five straight bogeys by hitting two shots into the water on the 18th and taking a triple-bogey. Over that six-hole stretch, Garcia went from being five-under to signing for a three-over 75.
Dufner made bogey on the 18th, but that was the middle of his round. He took advantage of the downwind holes on the front side with birdies, then holed a birdie putt from just inside 30 feet on the fourth. He closed out his round with a seven-iron to about a foot.
“A lot easier to finish on nine than 18,” Dufner said.
Scott also finished on the par-three ninth hole.
He was hitting the ball so well in the early part of his round that when someone asked him how caddie Steve Williams helped him, Scott smiled and said: “He just got out of my way today. I didn’t ask too much of Steve out there today. I just aimed down the middle and hit it there.”
Scott also had a short eagle putt on No. 1 and twice made solid par saves. His lone bogey came from a bunker on the sixth hole, where he missed a 4 foot par putt.
Lee Westwood, playing alongside McIlroy and Donald in the traditional 1-2-3 group from the top of the world ranking, had a 76.
McIlroy was coming off a couple of big weeks — reaching the Match Play Championship final with a chance to go to No. 1, then winning the Honda Classic to get to the top of the ranking, all while Woods fired a 62 at him in the final round.
Woods made consecutive eagles, though they were four days apart on different courses. He finished the Honda Classic with an eagle and started that way at Doral. The rest of the day was not that easy.
“It was just a difficult day,” Woods said. “The wind was blowing putts around and it made for a very challenging round.”
Woods was hardly out of the mix. The wind is expected to blow most of the week, from a similar direction, meaning most of the par-fives can be reached in two, while some of the par four could be brutal.
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