Commentary

Tiger, Rory mesmerized us at Doral

Originally Published: March 10, 2012
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

DORAL, Fla. -- Rory McIlroy, hands on hips, a slightly annoyed look on his face, stood in the interview tent just across the cart path from the 18th hole. He wasn't happy.

"Disappointed," said McIlroy of his Saturday round at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Of course, he was. Who wouldn't be after shooting a 7-under-par 65 to shove his way onto the leaderboard and go from a T-28 at round's start to a T-8 by the end of the day?

[+] EnlargeRory McIlroy
David Cannon/Getty ImagesAt one point during the third round, Rory McIlroy was 9 under through 12 holes, officially kicking off the 59 watch. The Northern Irishman needed to birdie four of his last six holes to get to golf's magic number, but came up short.

"I never thought I would stand up here and say I'm disappointed with 7-under," said the world's No. 1 ranked player, "but today is definitely one of those days."

That's because the TPC Blue Monster mostly played like a Labrador puppy rolled on its back waiting for a belly rub. There wasn't much wind and what wind there was made the four par 5s reachable in two and put a couple of par 4s almost into the go-zone.

It was a day for low, low scores. McIlroy shot his 65 and called it "OK." You or I shoot 65 and they're testing us for HGH.

"It would have been nice to post something, 61, 62, whatever, but yeah, at least I've put myself sort of back into the tournament and given myself a chance to post a high finish," said McIlroy. "So that's a positive."

The scary part? McIlroy could have broken 60. He shot a front-nine 30 -- and that's without a birdie on the two par 5s. At one point on the front, he birdied five of six holes and six of eight. Then he eagled the par-5 10th and birdied the par-4 12th to get to 9-under for the round and 11-under for the tournament.

Word spread quickly: McIlroy wasn't only making a run at the course record (61), but at a sub-60. Suddenly the gallery size multiplied when he stepped to the No. 10 tee box.

"When he eagled 10 and birdied 12, obviously it was game on for the old magic number," said buddy and Saturday playing partner Graeme McDowell. "He's just so impressive to watch. Like I say, I kind of felt like I was shooting 80 out there. I had to keep reminding myself I was 5-under par."

Said McIlroy: "When I was 9-under through 12, you're thinking [birdieing] four of the last six and here we go. But obviously it didn't happen like that."

About the only person not to break par Saturday was new Doral owner Donald Trump. And if you didn't shoot something in the mid-60s, you were cooked.

McIlroy walked off with that 65 and still finds himself eight shots behind leader Bubba Watson and five shots behind second-place Keegan Bradley and Justin Rose. At the Blue Monster, birdies are the new par.

Tiger Woods cranked the gallery noise dial to 11 after going birdie-birdie-birdie to start his day. He recorded a front-nine 33, but then could do no better than a 35 on the back.

His round of 68 was nothing to be ashamed of, but like McIlroy, he's still eight strokes out of the lead with seven players ahead of him. Anything is possible, I suppose -- after all, he shot a closing-round 62 last Sunday at the Honda Classic -- but Doral is in a giving mood to everybody.

"They are going pretty low out there," said Woods.

After a sluggish, indifferent start to this tournament, McIlroy is coming around. And Woods, while not especially sharp during chunks of Saturday's round, has gone from baby steps to full strides on his comeback.

"You can tell he's got a lot of confidence about him now," said Steve Stricker, part of another buddy pairing Saturday. "I would think by Masters time he's going to be ready to go."

Stricker, one of the best putters on tour, said Woods' touch on the greens is beginning to resemble vintage Woods again. This is good news for tour broadcast partners, not such great news for those who thought his game was lost at sea.

"It looks like he's putting like his old self again," said Stricker, a frequent Tiger partner in match play. "He made a lot of good putts."

But so did Watson, Bradley, Rose and half of the Metro-Dade area. It was that kind of day and that easy of conditions.

"The scores being as low as they are, I mean, the winning score is probably going to be in the 20s," said Woods.

That means Woods and McIlroy will have to shoot Sunday 61s to even be in the conversation.

And yet, I won't be surprised if it happens. The Blue Monster is wagging its tail. Good, puppy ... good, puppy.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.

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