"I didn't like the course last year," says Mark Calcavecchia, who claimed the alterations turned the Blue Monster from a place where power players once excelled into one better suited for accuracy-oriented, shorter hitters. "Of course, I've got too much respect for Raymond to tell him what I thought," adds Calcavecchia, who finished 30th last week.
Somehow, though, Doral got the message. This year seven of the new bunkers were removed, in particular the two on the right side of the 18th fairway that narrowed the landing area to less than 20 yards. The slightly softened Blue Monster, however, was still a handful in last week's gusty winds. With the fairways and greens firm and fast, and with most of the holes playing into a crosswind, finding the fairway required skillful driving. Approaches from the rough routinely bounced over the putting surfaces, and the scalped Bermuda greens produced more three-putts than ever. In the third round, when gusts reached 30 mph, only two players, Mayfair and Paul Azinger, broke 70 on the par-72, 7, 125-yard course.
Floyd accepted the criticism of his work with equanimity, but biting his tongue may have lit an inner fire. Hanging near the lead all week before finishing with a pair of 73s and in 15th place, seven shots behind Bradley, Floyd made a respectable bid to become, at 55, the oldest player by nearly three years to win a Tour event.
There were precious few other big names on the board. Colin Montgomerie and Norman missed the cut. Nicklaus, giving the USGA some evidence to support the notion that he deserves a sixth special exemption into the U.S. Open, made the cut before a closing 77 dropped him into an age-matching 58th. Azinger made his best showing of the year by tying Floyd and was in contention until running into trouble late in Sunday's round. Jim Furyk, who tied for ninth, shot a 62 on Friday that qualifies as the round of the year. Curtis Strange shared the first-round lead with a 68 before finishing 41st, which was deceiving because he made a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 72nd hole.
Fortunately for the tournament, Tiger Woods was in the field for the first time, and that's all it took to break previous attendance records at Doral. On Sunday an estimated crowd of 53,000 came to see if Woods, who was three strokes behind, could catch Bradley. The day before, Woods had hit an electrifying shot to close out his round, nearly holing a 148-yard seven-iron from a fairway bunker. Aware that it was the kind of shot that rebuts critics who say he lacks the ability to finesse his irons, Woods reacted by looking directly into the CBS camera following him to the green and exulting, "How about that one, huh? Oh, baby, I love it."
Woods, whose last Tour win came eight months ago, in the Western Open, is also aware of the talk that he is losing his competitive edge. When he strode onto the putting green on Sunday morning, he wore an expression that fairly screamed: I intend to win. "Whoa, man!" said Azinger when he saw Woods. "Have you got your game face on or what?" Woods barely smiled.
But as has been his pattern, Woods made enough mistakes in the final round to negate any heroics. He put himself at a disadvantage by three-putting the 1st hole, a downwind par-5, for par and proceeded to play the other three par-5s in one-over. He trailed Bradley by five shots at the turn, and though he rallied with two late birdies, any chance to win ended when he failed to birdie the par-4 17th. When he dunked his approach shot on the 18th into the water and made double bogey, Woods dropped into a tie for ninth, his worst finish on Tour this year.
While much of the focus on Sunday was on Woods, the unassuming Bradley had been the man in charge all week. A 31-year-old from Largo, Fla., who generates seemingly effortless power, Bradley grabbed a share of the lead after going eagle, birdie, birdie in the middle of a second-round 66. His 70 on Saturday left him two strokes clear of Stewart Cink. Throughout the tournament Bradley put on a ball-striking clinic, hitting 61 greens in regulation, three more than the next best player, Vijay Singh. Bradley had an inordinately high number of putts for a winner—124—especially when compared to the 101 needed by Elkington and Norman the previous two years.
Hitting the ball has never been a problem for Bradley. At six feet and 190 pounds, he's a strong, natural swinger with a beautiful pace, in the same category as players such as David Duval, Els and Davis Love III. Last year Bradley had the longest measured drive on Tour, 381 yards at the Walt Disney World Classic. At Doral, because of a herniated disk in his back, he hardly practiced, but his swing needs so little maintenance that it didn't matter.
Bradley's only teacher has been his 72-year-old father, John, a club pro for more than 40 years who now teaches at Bloomingdale Golfers Club outside Tampa. "Michael and I just work on his basics, mostly setup and alignment," John says. "He has a gift for swinging the club correctly."