DORAL, Fla. (AP) — Dustin Johnson was one of the few players who looked like he was having a good time at the Cadillac Championship.
The new Blue Monster is bluer than ever with all the water in play. Throw in a relentless wind with gusts that topped 30 mph, and it lived up to its nickname. That would explain how none of the four players tied for the lead, including Johnson, could manage better than 74.
It explains why Tiger Woods could follow his highest score ever at Doral by hitting three balls in the water, and still be only six shots out of the lead. It explains how Phil Mickelson could make three straight double bogeys and, like Woods, still be in the mix.
Brandt Snedeker was in the middle of the seventh fairway and chose to lay up short of the green. Bubba Watson laid up on a par 3.
“I like it playing hard,” said Johnson, who made three bogeys on his last six holes for a 74 to fall into a four-way tie for the lead. “Being 1-under and tied for the lead, that says something about the conditions, and also the golf course.”
It would suggest they were hard — both of them.
Matt Kuchar hit out of the rough to within tap-in range on the 18th for a birdie, giving him a 74 and a share of the lead. Hunter Mahan, four holes after making triple bogey, hit 4-iron to 5 feet for eagle that helped him salvage a 74 and a share of the lead. Patrick Reed made only two birdies in his round of 75 to join them.
They were at 1-under 143, the only players remaining under par.
NBC Sports is in the last year of its contract televising the U.S. Open. For one day, it looked like the peacock got two U.S. Opens in one year.
There were horror stories just about everywhere.
Johnson’s 9-iron landed on the green at No. 15 and wound up in the water. Webb Simpson played away from the water on the seventh hole, went left into the bunker, and his next shot came out of the sand and into the water he was trying to avoid in the first place.
It was like that all day.
“I felt stressed all day, because I knew every shot had ‘big penalty’ written all over it,” Mahan said. “It was a really tough day. There wasn’t an easy shot out there. One of those rounds where it could go south pretty fast, so you’ve got to grind it out and find a way to get a number up there and get to the weekend.”
Here are the gory details:
— Only three players broke par — Jamie Donaldson of Wales led the way with a 70, followed by Graeme McDowell and Chris Kirk, who each had a 71.
— The average score was 76.
— There were 113 balls that found the water on Friday, which was just 19 fewer than the entire tournament a year ago at Doral.
— Five players failed to break 80, a group that included two players who were No. 1 in the world — Luke Donald (82) and Martin Kaymer (80).
— Jonas Blixt had the only bogey-free round. He made 18 pars.
All that, and the tournament is wide open.
McDowell had only one bogey in his round of 71 and was at even-par 144, along with Rory McIlroy (74) and Francesco Molinari (75). Bubba Johnson and Zach Johnson were another shot behind, followed by a group that included Harris English and Jason Dufner, both of whom shot 77.
“It was a day where you obviously couldn’t win the golf tournament, but you could let it get away from you, and you could rack up a few big numbers and play yourself out of contention,” McIlroy said.
It felt like a U.S. Open. It looked like a U.S. Open. And based on a small sample of the complaints, it sounded like a U.S. Open.
“The setup is horrendous,” Simpson said after a 78, two shots better than the 80 he shot in the opening round. “Even if we had a 10 mph wind, it still would have been bad. I played terrible. I want to get that out there. But when you have conditions like this, and a setup like this, so much luck comes into play.”
Henrik Stenson prefaced his comments by saying, “How do you say something you might regret the rest of your life?”
So he didn’t.
Woods said his back was sore from a long day — he played 26 holes — but he made it out alive. Despite the three water balls — a wedge on No. 3, a tee shot on No. 8 and a tee shot on the par-3 15th — he made a 90-foot birdie putt and followed that with a 3-foot birdie putt, and he kept bogeys off his card the rest of the way for a 73.
“We’ve all got a shot at it now,” Woods said. “No one is going anywhere.”
Masters champion Adam Scott, who played with Woods and Stenson (76), also had a 73 and was only five shots behind.
The good news for the players? The wind is not supposed to be as fierce on the weekend. The new Doral doesn’t take much to make it interesting.
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