Doral's Blue Monster was a bomber's delight in 2015. When Gil Hanse changed the course, the added length played right into the hands of some of the PGA Tour's biggest hitters. That was evidenced by the 1-2-3 finish of Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson in last year's WGC-Cadillac Championship.
So to combat that, Hanse moved some of the fairway bunkers back. Now the boomers have to decide whether to fly the sand or lay up, taking away what appeared to be a decisive advantage for the long hitters.
Make no mistake, the Blue Monster will still favor anyone who hits it long and keeps it out of the water. But if the course plays softer than it did last year -- and Watson is one who believes it will -- there could be surprises galore come Sunday.
WGC-CADILLAC CHAMPIONSHIP: Tee times, pairings
Here are the five players to keep a close eye on this week:
5. Phil Mickelson
Best finish in 2015-16 season: Second at AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Reason to watch: That second-round 74 at PGA National doomed his Honda Classic chances, but Lefty continues to put himself in a position to contend every week, it seems. He's still the best in the business when it comes to scrambling. The biggest problem this week, unfortunately, is the lack of places from which to scramble at the water-drenched Blue Monster. Mickelson's hitting just a little over half of his fairways in 2016, a stat that could be telling at a place like Doral.
4. Bubba Watson
Best finish in 2015-16 season: Won Northern Trust Open
Reason to watch: Bubba's been particularly sharp on Sundays this season. His last four results? 68-66-67-66. (Although that conveniently ignores his missed Sunday cut at Pebble Beach.) The redesigned Blue Monster proved to be a big advantage for the big hitters last year, and Bubba is one of the longest. However, if the course plays softer -- unlike last year's firm and fast conditions -- that could take away some of Watson's advantage. Still, that victory at Riviera -- and a great showing this week in Miami -- would place him in a prime position for a possible third green jacket.
3. Dustin Johnson
Best finish in 2015-16 season: Fourth at Northern Trust Open
Reason to watch: D.J. pretty much overpowered the Blue Monster en route to victory last year. But with some changes to the course, the long hitters may not be able to carry the fairway bunkers -- which will take away much of their advantage. Still, the way Johnson is playing right now, that's just a minor detail. He's still destroying the field when it comes to par-5s, but his putting is coming around, as evidenced by the way he played at Riviera. If he gets everything working at once, he could be a force all spring and summer.
2. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2015-16 season: T11 at the HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: Will the real Rory please step up? A final-round 75 that blew up any chance he had to contend at Riviera. Then he missed the cut last week at the Honda Classic. And Doral gave him enough fits -- and lost golf balls -- last year that he eventually tossed his club in the lake, where it was recovered by a scuba diver. McIlroy thought playing more before the Masters might sharpen his game for Augusta National. If anything, it's going the wrong way. But perhaps a strong Cadillac Championship could turn the tide.
1. Jordan Spieth
Best finish in 2015-16 season: Won Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: Championship hangover? Not sure you can call it that, especially after his dominating victory in Maui. But it does seem like Spieth is missing the same putts that he was so good at making in 2015. He was never a factor at the AT&T and missed the weekend in L.A. Like McIlroy, Spieth needs to find it quickly before the azaleas begin blooming. And Doral is a stern test, even when you're at the top of your game.
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