TWIG: Watch for Woods at final Ford
Good-bye Ford. Hello Computer Associates. OK, so I'm getting a bit ahead of myself, but this is the final year of the Ford Championship as we know it. Next year, there's a new sponsor, a new date and a new twist as this tournament gains World Golf Championship status and will be limited to the top 50 or so in the World Ranking. For now, however, the rank and file will get one more crack at the Blue Monster, which has produced some monster finishes in recent years -- from Tiger Woods beating Phil Mickelson with record weekend rounds of 63-66 last year, to Craig Parry's eagle from 176 yards out to beat Scott Verplank in a playoff the year before, to Scott Hoch's controversial Monday playoff win over Jim Furyk the year before that. And who could forget Ernie Els holding off a charging Tiger in 2002? Here's hoping the boys in Miami can give us that kind of drama for a fifth year in a row.
A lot of readers won't like this, but you have to start with Tiger. Yes, he got bounced from the third round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and yes, saying Tiger is hot is taking the easy way out -- so much so that it's almost cliché. But you can't ignore what Woods has done at Doral.
Last year, Woods not only set a tournament scoring record for the weekend, he did it for the entire tournament, finishing in 24-under 264. To give you an idea of how good that really is, only Jim Furyk in 2000 and Greg Norman in 1993, both with 23-under 265s, have broken 270 for the week in the 44-year history of this event. Woods was also tops in the field last year with a back-nine scoring average of 32.5 -- almost 3 strokes better than the rest of the field. Woods also ranked first in par-5 birdie percentage and had just one round in which he didn't record at least three consecutive birdies.
One other note about Tiger before we move on: Of his 37 non-major victories, 30 of them have come at a tournament he's won more than once. The Ford Championship at Doral is, of course, one of the few he hasn't won twice, but given how well he's played there, it certainly wouldn't be any great shock if that changed.
Jim Furyk is another player who comes into Miami playing well, and who plays well in Miami. It's part of the reason why my colleague, John Hawkins, likes his chances to win in this week's Fantasy Focus. And I can't blame him. As he notes, Furyk plays well in the wind and on Bermuda, and let's face it, the Blue Monster isn't the same Blue Monster it once was. It's no longer considered a long track by tour standards and you need to look no further than past champions Parry, Hoch and Joe Durant for an example of that.
Conversely, if you looked only at his putting, you'd think Vijay Singh isn't having a very good year. But Mr. Fiji has finished outside the top 10 only once this year in five tournaments. Make no mistake about it: Putting is a problem for Singh. Always has been and probably always will be. But he's also good enough to get on a roll with the flat stick and Doral could be the place where he does. Remember, he finished third here a year ago after a final-round 66.
Anytime you hear a golfer says he's a mess, it's not a good thing. And unlike other sports, where you'd maybe want to lull your opponent into a false sense of security, your only opponent in golf is yourself, or the course. That's where Kenny Perry is these days after missing two of his last three cuts and a first-round exit at last week's Match Play.
"My golf swing is out of sync," Perry told the Fort-Worth Star Telegram on a recent trip to Forth Worth for the Colonial kickoff dinner. (Perry is the defending champion at the May tournament). "I've been hitting a lot of pull hooks. That's really caused me a lot of troubles. You can't survive on the tour playing out of the thick stuff. You need to hit fairways."
Perry arguably has been the tour's longest straight hitter over the years, but this year his distance and accuracy are both down and he's hitting it in the left rough on 20 percent of his shots this season. Don't read too much into that last stat for this week though since there's not a lot of rough to be found at Doral. But unless Perry can keep his body from outrunning his hands -- which he says is causing him to flip the club more with his hands -- it could be another disappointing week.
Just about all of 2005 was a disappointment for Els, and this year isn't getting off to a much better start. It's always difficult to gauge what kind of effect something like knee surgery and a few months completely away from the game will have on a player, but there are a lot of people, self included, that thought it might be a blessing in disguise for Frequent Flier Ernie. So far, it hasn't worked out that way -- and Els is still hopping jets to far-away places.
While his first-round loss at La Costa came as a surprise to some, it shouldn't have been. Els never plays well in the Match Play, isn't particularly fond of the course and drew a tough opponent in Bernhard Langer. Throw in his quick trip at the beginning of a short week to a course he's designing in Hawaii, and he was doomed.
Now comes Doral, a place Ernie likes and has played well at. "Got a lot of good memories from this place," Els said on his Web site. "I'm hoping the Blue Monster will inspire me; kind of get my game moving into top gear."
But if Els doesn't produce a strong finish here, you have to wonder how that will affect his confidence, and his results the rest of this season.
The Ford Championship at Doral is where Woods recaptured his No. 1 ranking last year after having lost it to Singh in August 2004. He hasn't let go since.
In his limited appearances in Miami, Tiger has won, finished second and tied for ninth. I'm going to go out on a limb and say he'll add to that win total this week.
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