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The first of this season's World Golf Championship events takes us to Trump National Doral where an elite field of 67 qualifiers from the very upper echelons of world golf will once again attempt to tame the revamped layout that brought most of the field to its knees on debut 2 years ago and only played marginally easier last year. After another tough week at PGA National for those in attendance, this week doesn't promise to be a great deal easier as Gil Hanse's re-design has proven to be a formidable challenge for the players with the course ranking amongst the toughest tracks on the circuit in both 2014 and 2015.
There's no cut in this event and, despite the short field, mainstream bookmakers are still paying 5 places each way at 1/4 odds with the exception of Sky Bet who are sticking their necks out once again and offering 6 places each way this week - latest Sky Bet prices are here.
Trump National Doral. Designer: Dick Wilson with Hanse re-design 2014; Course Type: Technical; Par: 72; Length: 7,528 yards; Water Hazards: 14; Greens: Bermuda TifEagle. 2015 scoring average: 73.27; Rd1: 73.37, Rd2: 73.49, Rd3: 72.59, Rd4: 73.64.
Course Overview. Prior to Gil Hanse's changes, with the exception of the 18th hole the previous Blue Monster was anything but monstrous and typically rated inside the top 25% of easy courses to play on the PGA Tour. For the most part the 18th was left alone during the renovations, however the remainder of the track was turned upside down by Hanse and Jim Wagner prior to the 2014 event - with more than a little helpful input from Mr. Trump himself. 14 of the holes now feature water hazards of some description and 150 yards was added to the overall length to push it into the 7,500 yard region from its tips. The objective for the changes was to make the track far more of a challenge for the professionals and that, combined with some generally breezy conditions for the past 2 renewals, has seen the course average nearly 2 shots over its par on both occasions that it's been played.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's WGC Cadillac Championship that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available if you prefer. In an elite field it's no surprise to see some of the bookies' favourites at the top of this week's final predictor with Bubba Watson, who's finished inside the top-3 three of the last four years, heading affairs from Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.
Winners & Prices. 2015: Dustin Johnson, 22/1; 2014: Patrick Reed, 80/1; 2013: Tiger Woods, 12/1; 2012: Justin Rose, 66/1; 2011: Nick Watney, 20/1; 2010: Ernie Els, 40/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 5 years based on the completed 2015 schedule click here; For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Doral is here. The tournament should enjoy temperatures in the low 80s Fahrenheit with sunny conditions expected until Sunday when there's a chance of rain. Afternoon breezes of around 10-15 mph could make conditions a little trickier for the players with the wind direction expected to change during the course of the event.
Players Quotes. Let's take a view from some of the players as to how Doral plays in terms of difficulty in its current guise:
Bubba Watson: "You know, the golf course, it's the best shape I've ever seen it. The greens are perfect. The fairways are unbelievable. The rough is still rough - everybody hates rough, but it's the best I've ever seen this golf course. It's a beautiful place. The challenge around here is trying to hit your drive halfway decent; miss the water, miss the bunkers and make putts. When you come here, the challenge of the wind, the challenge of the golf course, the speed of the greens are really, really quick right now, and so you get here, you get excited about the challenge. This is why we play the game of golf is to challenge ourselves and try to improve and get better in tough conditions."
Patrick Reed: "I love it when golf courses are playing hard because I'm a scrambler. And whenever you have to go out and play a golf course where everyone is hitting driver and wedge on every green and making birdies on every hole; to me it's more fun to play a golf course where you haven't hit every different shot, having to scramble to make pars, and when you go shoot 2, 3-under par, it's a good score."
Brooks Koepka: "It's hard. You kind of have to go into it with a U.S. Open mentality knowing that guys are going to struggle, you're going to struggle and you just have to minimize it and try to make bogeys at worst. You don't want double, takes two holes to get back; where bogey you can recover are the next hole. You just kind of go in with a U.S. Open mentality."
Henrik Stenson: "It's definitely going to give you an indication where you're at with your game, and you've got to play well to get a score out there and then mentally to keep your patience and focus and never give up. It's very tough. It's borderline stupid‑tough at times, but it is what it is there, and you've just got to come out with a good game plan and stick to that one and try and avoid disaster on a few of the holes. It's more that if you miss in the wrong place, it's virtually like hitting it out of bounds. You're reloading off the tee or on 10, for instance, if you miss the tee shot left, you're hitting it over again. A few others on a short hole like 15, if you stall one into the wind there on a short pin, you're reloading on the tee. There's always that danger to take a high number if you miss it on the wrong holes with the wrong shot."
Ryan Moore: [talking about the 18th hole] "I mean, it's a really tough golf hole. No matter what wind and whatever conditions; if there was no wind, it's a tough golf hole. I hit a tee shot that was just a couple yards left of perfect, and it started left and goes in the water, and then you're standing there with a 200‑yard shot straight back into the wind for your third shot over water the whole way with nothing but trouble everywhere. So honestly, it was hard enough that I even considered laying up off the tee there today, and just hitting a 5‑iron or 4‑iron, laying up again, and taking my chance with a wedge. Just because there's so many bad things that can happen to you if you hit it right, because there's so many palm trees in there now; you could be stymied and taking a drop in a second over there. But the reality is, there's still a fairway there, and you can hit it. You've just got to stand up and hit a good shot. If you hit it left, it's going in the water. If you hit it right, you're in the trees and probably chipping out. So, yeah, it's just a flat‑out really difficult golf hole. "
Rory McIlroy: "The margins are so small on this golf course, and at times, I felt last year it was a little unfair because of how firm the course was. But this year, it's a little better. It's softer and the greens received shots a little bit better. But it is, it's playing tough. I think it's a golf course that's designed for a ten‑mile‑an‑hour wind and usually you get a 20‑mile‑an‑hour wind here. It's a tough test."
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
The past 2 years' results and the way that the renovated Doral plays now virtually consigns previous analysis here to the dustbin. Below are the key stats for the top 3 finishers here from the past 2 renewals which may give us some indication of the type of player required here:
Length off the tee has proven to be a strong asset at the newly extended layout with Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed ranking 3rd and 4th respectively for driving distance on the week in 2014 and Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and Watson again ranking 1st, 3rd and 2nd on the same count last year.
Par 5 scoring proved to be critical at Doral in 2014, much as it had been historically before the course changes. Winner Patrick Reed was -9 for the par 5s over the course of the week and +5 for the remainder of the holes; Jamie Donaldson was -5 (-3 overall) and Bubba Watson -9 (-3 overall). A similar story last year with DJ producing a -6 tally for the long holes, Holmes -4 and Watson -7 over the full 4 days. Taking advantage of the 16 looks at par 5s this week will be critical provided players can navigate the rest of the course as close to level par as possible.
Despite J.B. Holmes producing an incredible 62 in the first round last year, this track is up there with the toughest on Tour and even though conditions aren't expected to be overly difficult this week, this new layout is still a strict test. The wind often blows harder than the forecast suggests around these parts and one aspect that's likely to test the players this week is that the wind direction will be switching regularly during the tournament which will create cross-winds on some holes and shorter/longer shots on others which will vary from day to day.
Incoming Form/Event Form Of Winner. Last year's winner Dustin Johnson arrived at Doral fresh from a missed cut at the Honda Classic, however finishes of 4th and 2nd in the weeks prior to that suggested he was in decent enough nick to feature. 4th in this event the previous year was also a positive, as was 2nd in 2011 prior to the renovations. For a summary of 2015 PGA Tour winners' current/event form prior to winning click here.
Bookmaker Offers. A short field this week means fewer deals on offer, however here's the best out there at the time of writing:
My selections are as follows:
Of course it sounds clichéd, however in a field this jam-packed full of quality you really could make a case for a dozen or more players. The dilemma for punters is exactly how to play this week with 7 of the most likely candidates all priced at 16/1 or shorter and win-only punts on any of those contenders fraught with danger, but on the flip-side odds aren't strong enough to back multiple selections each-way and hope to make an overall profit on the week. If push came to shove I'd probably favour Jason Day and Rickie Fowler over the other 5: with Rory and Spieth seemingly off the boil (although that can change in an instant!), DJ defending, Scott attempting back-to-back wins and Bubba having openly admitted that he 'can't stand' the track despite his record here, Day and Fowler gravitate to the top for me. Yet from 9 attempts between the talented pair at Doral old and new, a best finish of 8th from the American is the best result that's been mustered so far. Yes, I may live to eat my words, however the winner could well come from outside of these elite players and if that's the case then I can think of no better candidate than Henrik Stenson to be carrying my money.
The super Swede is at his best when an event requires a game-plan that demands a combination of brains and brawn. His mastering of the Earth Course in Dubai in recent years (2015 excluded of course) has been as a result of a carefully constructed plan that allows him to maximise length and accuracy from his trusted 3-wood that he hits just about as far as the driver of many average players and that combination of power and accuracy is perfect around this toughened up track at Doral. 16th 2 years ago (3rd for putting) and 4th last year (3rd for total driving, 4th for ball-striking) around this revamped track shows positive progression and whereas 12 months ago he was still struggling a little with his putting, that side of his game has been on the ascendancy of late with some eye-catching displays at Sheshan (1.64 putts per GIR, 7th in field), Sun City (1.66 putts, 1st) and last time out for Henrik at the Emirates in Dubai (1.67 putts, 13th in the field on the Bermuda TifEagle greens).
High class victories at The Players Championship, East Lake and his double success at the Earth Course in Dubai on the European Tour are just the cream that sits atop a career littered with contending performances on the grainier surfaces around the world. Stenson has also won on the Gil Hanse re-design at TPC Boston in 2013 and finishes of 3rd and 6th in the Middle East to start his year suggests his game's in a strong place right now. A growing confidence with the flat stick and a tough tee-to-green examination is perfect for the 39 year-old to get back to winning ways after a catalogue of near misses and runner-up finishes since his last silverware at the back end of 2014 and, with his repaired knee seemingly holding up nicely, this could well be the week. RESULT: T28
Power was the key element once again last year with the top 3 finishers also ranking inside the top 3 for driving distance on the week and if that trend is set to continue here this week then Brooks Koepka is a prime candidate to get into the mix here. Averaging 307.8 yards off the tee so far this season is pretty much what you'd expect for a player who's finished inside the top-10 for driving distance for the full season each year that he's been recorded stateside and that power will give the 25 year-old a distinct advantage here this week as he looks to build on his Doral debut last year when he finished a respectable 17th.
Many pundits have Koepka singled out a future Major champion given that there's an awful lot more to his game than just smashing it miles off the tee: 34th for strokes gained tee-to-green in 2015 and 17th for strokes gained putting shows that he's not just a one trick pony and 6th for all round ranking, 7th for par 5 scoring and interestingly 10th for par 4 scoring all bode well on a track that demands a lot of all-round game and the ability to survive the par 4s whilst taking advantage of the par 5s. Bermuda greens are the Florida native's best surface as you might expect and 4th for putting at Kapalua where he finished 3rd behind Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed on the TifEagle Bermuda is notable form coming into this event. With just over a year having elapsed since his maiden PGA Tour victory in Phoenix, don't be at all surprised to see the world No.18 add a title or two to his tally this year as well as gracing our screens at the Ryder Cup later this year. RESULT: T23
With so much quality in this field there's little scope to venture too deep into the betting in my view - bar something really odd I'd expect at least 2 of the each-way places to be taken up by players from the top 7 in the betting. Of the remaining candidates I'm backing Patrick Reed whose performance last week at the Honda reminds me very much of Dustin Johnson 12 months ago before he went on to secure this title. Reed never got going last week and his challenge petered out quickly after a poor start when fancied to go well, however the fact remains that his underlying form and motivation to succeed in golf's biggest events is extremely unlikely to have changed after 2 off days and I suspect he'll bounce back again here at the scene of his victory 2 years ago.
The course has settled down a little since that week and Reed's game has improved in the 24 months that have elapsed plus tweaks to the 25 year-old's swing last autumn have produced more consistency from both his tee shots and irons with the Texan beaming, "I feel like I'm hitting the ball great. I spent a lot of time at home working with a different driver and now I'm hitting the ball straighter with the tee shot, so now we'll play on short grass. I'm setting up more square and able to naturally use the golf club, and it's made a huge difference."
For a player of Reed's ilk, once he starts finding fairways and greens with regularity he's a formidable opponent to even those at the very top of the game. 1st for total driving and the same for ball-striking at the Earth Course in November was mightily impressive and only the unstoppable force of Jordan Spieth came between Patrick and the Hyundai trophy on his return to competitive action in 2016. 300 yard drives coupled with a ranking of 3rd for ball-striking on his penultimate start at Pebble Beach tells us where his game really is and if you can look past last week's disappointment then the 40/1 on offer about an in-form course winner is too good to turn down in my opinion. RESULT: T52