T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
2014 WGC-Cadillac Championship | Five players to watch
Series: Golf Buzz
Published: Wednesday, March 05, 2014 | 1:36 p.m.
This will be a fun -- yet interesting -- week on the PGA Tour. Why? Well, the Tour returns to a popular venue that won't look anything like the way they remember it this time a year ago.
Two years ago, Donald Trump acquired Doral and hired designer Gil Hanse to make extensive changes and renovations to the course long known as the Blue Monster, which plays host to the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
This week, for the first time, the players and the fans at home, get to see these new changes. What kind of impact will the tweaks have on the outcome? Tiger Woods, for one, probably wasn't happy to hear about any changes at Doral. Over the course of his career, Woods has been four-time winner there and -- in fact -- is the defending champ this time around.
However, with the overhaul at Doral, coupled with Tiger's recent back issues in on-course struggles, it's anyone's guess as to how well he'll perform. Could he win? Sure. Will he? Who knows?
In the meantime, here are five players other than Tiger you may want to pay attention to this week.
5. Nick Watney
Best finish in 2013-14 season: T24 at the Honda Classic
Reason to watch: OK, so Watney's T24 last week is his best finish this season. Certainly not anything to write home about. He's been a winner and a runner up at Doral the way we used to know the course. While the layout might be different, I have a feeling that the venue -- in name alone -- could bring back some good vibes for Watney. While that T24 was his best finish this season, it should also be noted that he's made the cut in seven of his eight starts. He hasn't done anything spectacular, but he's also been around for a lot of weekends. He just needs to put four rounds together.
4. Sergio Garcia
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Fourth at WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: Garcia has made four starts this season and his worst finish is a T11 in the CIMB Classic. The other three have been top 10s. That's some stellar golf. His entire career, Garcia has been one of the best players in the world with a driver in hand. That will bode well at a long Doral. His downfall -- always -- has been the short stick. It seems as though he's had the putter under control this season based on his finishes. Let's see if that translates at Doral.
3. Jason Day
Best finish in 2013-14 season: Winner of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
Reason to watch: Day is making his first start since winning that scintillating Match Play final over Victor Dubuisson in Tucson a couple of weeks ago. This will be Day's fourth start overall on the season. Aside from the win, he also tied for second at the Farmers Insurance Open. Since the Match Play was clearly the biggest win of his career to date, I expect Day to carry that confidence into Doral and, also, into the major season.
2. Phil Mickelson
Best finish in 2013-14 season: 14th at the WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: Over the course of his career, Phil Mickelson has owned the West Coast Swing. That wasn't the case this year. In three starts, he cracked the top-20 once -- that was a T19 at Pebble Beach. Of course, he did withdraw at Torrey Pines citing back pain. Mickelson tees it up this week after missing the cut at last week's Honda Classic. If the new Doral is anything like the old -- and in certain aspects it has to be -- the risk/reward factor is huge. That's the type of golf Mickelson thrives on. He takes chances and doesn't worry about going down in flames. That has made him one of the most exciting players to watch for the last several years. He's got to get some good vibes going before the majors get here and this would be a good place to start.
1. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2013-14 season: T2 in a playoff at the Honda Classic
Reason to watch: In the grand scheme of things, McIlroy was brilliant at last week's Honda Classic, even if he did play the final three holes 2-over par (4-over 74 for the final round). Needless to say, that playoff loss to Russell Henley had to sting a bit. McIlroy hit one of the best shots of his career when he had a chance to win in regulation -- a 5-wood from just over 240 yards that settled 12 feet from the hole to set up what could have been a winning eagle. Anyway, he's eager to get over last week. And, with the game McIlroy has displayed so far in the last three months, it looks like he's back on track to being the player we all knew pre-2013.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
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