Not long ago the Doral-Ryder Open was the biggest event of the early season and, to many, the unofficial beginning of the PGA Tour. That's no longer the case, thanks to huge purse increases on the West Coast, the Andersen Consulting Match Play and the unpopular course changes made to Doral's Blue Monster. This week only 11 of the top 30 players in the World Ranking will tee it up in Miami, the same as last year.
After last year's poor turnout, Doral went into damage-control mode. First, the resort undid Raymond Floyd's 1996 redesign. Floyd had added 27 bunkers to Dick Wilson's original design, and he made most of the existing ones bigger and deeper. "They butchered a good course as bad as I've ever seen," said Scott Hoch. The fix was left to Jim McLean, Doral's teaching pro since 1991. He removed 23 bunkers and widened the driving areas.
Tour pros say that Doral has sent out more recruiters than any other tournament. "It's been a full-court press," says Davis Love III, "but it's more than the course." The tournament's $3 million purse is exceeded at four of the nine events on the West Coast and equaled at three others.
The swing should pick up in two weeks at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Invitational—Arnie can still twist arms—but Bay Hill's $2.8 million purse will be the smallest of the year so far. "Even Arnie is going to have to boost it if he wants to keep getting the top players," says Love. "That's just the way things are now."