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Nobody answered the phone last Thursday at the offices of the World Golf Tour, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Maybe everyone was down south at Doral Country Club, in Miami, watching the real world golf tour. Eight of the top 15 golfers in the Sony Ranking showed up to play in the Doral-Ryder Open last week. ( Fred Couples withdrew on Wednesday with back trouble.) At least as many are expected this week at the Honda Classic, and all 15 will probably be at The Players Championship in two weeks.
Meanwhile Norman, who is looking more and more like the captain of the Titanic, is the only guy still talking about his controversial project in the present tense. It's no wonder, because for the next month we can expect to see the best against the best on the PGA Tour, and isn't that precisely what the World Tour was supposed to give us? "There are so many marquee names here at Doral this week that I couldn't even make the pro-am," said Paul Azinger. "The tournament officials told me they looked at the list of players, and I just didn't make the cut." Azinger paused, then added with a smile, "How quickly they forget."
Ernie Els, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie, ranked Nos. 5, 6 and 8 in the world, respectively, each chose Doral as his first U.S. event of the season. Seve Ballesteros turned up as well, blowing off a tournament for which he's the spokesperson, the Turespa�a Masters, which is a little like Jack Nicklaus playing hooky from his Memorial Tournament to play a tour stop in Pamplona. Norman himself was on hand, making his second appearance on the Tour this year, and caused a stir with his suggestion that Doral was the first meaningful tournament of the PGA season. All of this illustrated that Doral is much like the opening of spring training, the initial tuneup for next month's Masters. "I think all of us Europeans feel that Doral is the beginning of the U.S. Tour," Montgomerie said. "It's a good course with an excellent field. That's what we're all looking for to get us adjusted to the American scene."
"Doral is where everybody comes to get warmed up," said the winner, Nick Faldo. "Everyone is done with their world hops, and this is the start of the countdown to you-know-what." For Faldo, who played in four tournaments on the West Coast, the win at Doral was sweet vindication of his decision to leave Europe and play a full U.S. schedule this year in an effort to pull out of a mid-career slump.
After eight weeks of tournaments out West, featuring fields thinner than Nicklaus's new waistline and not a single winner with a major championship in his bag, the Tour's annual barnstorming of the Sunshine State came not a moment too soon, though just because the best show up doesn't mean the best show up. After two rounds the Doral leader board was peppered with an eclectic set of names. There was a part-time bank teller ( Woody Austin), a club designer ( Harry Taylor), the best golfer ever from Anchorage (Tray Tyner) and Norman.
Order was restored on the weekend, but by then almost everybody in the field had been teasing the 6,939-yard, par-72 Blue Monster. The 36-hole cut was one under par, the lowest in the tournament's 34-year history, and on Saturday only 10 of the remaining 77 golfers shot over par. The assault was due mainly to favorable breezes, velvet-smooth greens and an overseeding of the fairways that kept even wayward drives from hopping off into the rough.
But above all, the Doral-Ryder Open was a melodramatic Love story. Davis Love III, who hasn't won a PGA tournament since October 1993, needs to win one, any one, to qualify for the Masters. For the first two rounds it seemed that Love would conquer all. He shot 65-69 and led Russ Cochran by a stroke. Then he found himself caught in a cavalry charge without a horse. Just like last year, when he averaged nearly a stroke higher in his weekend rounds than he did on Thursdays and Fridays, Love soured late, shooting 70-71 and finishing tied for fourth, two shots behind Faldo.
Love spoke about his frustrating Masters quest after his 65 on Thursday. In the second round of the Western Open in July, Love recounted, he had marked a one-foot putt on the 4th hole. He then moved his coin to clear the line for a playing partner but forgot to return the mark to its proper spot before replacing his ball and putting out. No one else noticed the oversight, but Love assessed himself a two-stroke penalty and missed the cut by those two shots.
He finished his season in 33rd place on the money list and just $766 from being one of the 30 invitees to the Tour Championship, which would have guaranteed him a trip to Augusta. "If I'd have moved that coin back, I'd be in the Masters right now," Love said last week. "But what if I'd said nothing and made the cut and won five thousand dollars that week and got in the Masters? And say I win the Masters, then I'd always wonder if I cheated my way into a green jacket."