Tiger Woods is the defending champion at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but due to nagging back spasms, it's going to be difficult to mount a strong defense of his title at the 2014 tournament.
The injury forced the golfing legend to withdraw in the final round of last week's Honda Classic, leaving his status up in the air for this event at Trump National Doral in Miami, Fla. According to ESPN.com's Bob Harig, Woods will still be able to participate this week—it just remains to be seen how effective he'll be.
With the hype that accompanies Woods wherever he goes, his form in light of his health issues on this stop of the PGA Tour's Florida swing is going to be a dominant storyline. There are still many elite players in the field, though, so this championship promises to be yet another compelling showcase of world-class golf.
In the first two rounds, players are paired based on world ranking, so that guarantees a slew of big-name clusters as the action unfolds in the early going. Woods will play with Adam Scott and third-ranked Henrik Stenson, and Scott has a chance to overtake Woods for the No. 1 world ranking, per Golf channel's Kelly Tilghman:
Tiger Woods slated to play w/Adam Scott & Henrik Stenson at Doral. Grouped by world rank. Scott could be #1 at wk's end with win— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) March 4, 2014
All of those factors will likely set up an epic finish to the event. In addition to a listing of when and where to catch the action, let's take a closer look at what to watch for as the schedule continues to pick up ahead of April's Masters Tournament.
When: Thursday, March 6 through Sunday, March 9
Where: Trump National Doral in Miami, Fla.
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit WorldGolfChampionships.com.
Notable Groupings: Tiger Woods-Adam Scott-Henrik Stenson; Jason Day-Phil Mickelson-Rory McIlroy; Dustin Johnson-Matt Kuchar-Jordan Spieth
FedExCup Points: 550
|Thursday, March 6||1-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, March 7||1-6 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, March 8||12-2 p.m.; 2-6 p.m.||Golf Channel; NBC|
|Sunday, March 9||1-3 p.m.; 3-6 p.m.||Golf Channel; NBC|
Analyzing Marquee Groups
Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy
A maintenance of momentum is what Day will be seeking, and while some of the same can be said for McIlroy, he will be more on the Mickelson mission of bouncing back after a disappointing finish last week.
Day won the previous World Golf Championship event, defeating Victor Dubuisson in a thrilling match play final that featured some missed opportunities for the Australian and a ton of short-game magic from his opponent. It was impressive that Day managed to win despite Dubuisson's heroics, especially considering Day had previously come up with strong results on big stages but had been unable to close the deal.
After three runner-up finishes in majors over the past three years, the match play tournament was a key breakthrough for Day. At age 26, he is just beginning to tap into his potential, and he knew he would hear persistent criticism if he didn't slam the door on Dubuisson.
As reported by PGATour.com's Brian Wacker, Day discussed the difficulty of winning, implying that a comparison to Woods is unrealistic:
A lot of people would be talking that I couldn't finish. You get to a breaking point in your golf game where it can go either way. You go, "OK, I've had enough and I just need to sit down and chill out." Or you go, "No, stuff that, I'm going to push through it and I'm not going to quit until I win." You guys have been blessed by seeing Tiger Woods win for so many years. People in general think it's easy to win. It's hard. It's not easy to go out there and just do it. I'm trying to strive to become Tiger Woods or in my own words, Jason Day, but there's just that human error. So many years we've watched Tiger hit so many clutch shots that people expect everyone on the PGA TOUR should be doing that. And that's why we practice so hard.
Another of the game's brightest young stars is McIlroy, who has two majors to his credit and a slew of high-profile tournament wins. However, he shot a four-over 74 in the final round of the Honda Classic after leading the field wire-to-wire, and he fell in a playoff to another promising youngster, Russell Henley.
McIlroy has to be feeling the sting from that one, especially because he hasn't won on the PGA Tour since the 2012 FedEx Cup playoffs. But the positive side of the close call is that McIlroy keeps knocking on the door. He figures to be back in the winner's circle soon enough.
It is very disappointing, but it was a decent week. I got myself into contention again. It was my third stroke-play event of the year and the third time I've been in contention with a chance to win. I haven't been able to sort of walk through that door but I feel like the more times I knock on that door, I'll eventually step through it.
As for Mickelson, he didn't even make it to the weekend at the Honda Classic, missing the cut by one stroke due primarily to poor iron play. The good news is that he drove the ball with accuracy and putted well, but missing shots in the wrong spots at PGA National will undo even the best golfers around the greens.
Golf Channel's Jason Sobel documented a key quote by Mickelson, though, with regard to how he perceived the previous tournament:
Phil Mickelson, who’s won 19 of his 42 titles during the West Coast Swing, on Honda Classic: “This feels to me like the start of the year.”— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) February 26, 2014
The 43-year-old veteran is just getting his year underway and unfortunately wasn't able to get in as many competitive reps last week as he would've liked. Now, Doral should serve as another stern test, and it's an event lefty won back in 2007.
Justin Rose, Zach Johnson and Sergio Garcia
Speaking of just starting the season, it must feel even more like that for Rose. The reigning U.S. Open champion had to withdraw from the Honda Classic due to right shoulder tendinitis, but now he returns to Doral, where he won in 2012 and finished tied for eighth last year.
Johnson is a steady ball-striker and has just about no holes in his game other than lackluster distance—something he can't really control.
That doesn't translate well to the new Doral layout, though, as the course has been lengthened and tightened up. The new design will leave Johnson and other shorter players at a disadvantage with longer clubs in their hands on approach shots.
But credit the former Masters winner's grit at PGA National last week during the first round, as Harig highlighted:
Nice comeback by Zach Johnson today. Made quad-8 at 11 hole, his 2nd (2 in water). Has followed with 6 birdies #HondaClassic— Bob Harig (@BobHarig) February 27, 2014
A tie for eighth after making the cut on the number at the Honda Classic has Garcia riding great form into Doral. As solid as he's been from tee to green over the years, the Spaniard's ball-striking has become inconsistent in recent seasons, but his putting has experienced an uptick with a new claw grip.
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Garcia's countryman, seems to think great things are in store for his peer, per GolfChannel.com's Rich Lerner:
I was talking to my wife. And I said, "I think this is going to be Sergio’s breakthrough year." He’s happy, he’s enjoying life again and he’s enjoying golf again...I’ve played with Tiger, Phil, Ernie, Vijay and just about all the recent greats, and the two most talented guys I’ve ever seen are Tiger and Sergio, by a mile.
If Garcia can put all the pieces together, he has a great chance to this week based on his strong current form—and perhaps finally capturing his long-awaited first major in 2014.
Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth
The new setup at Doral will not intimidate the likes of Dustin Johnson, who is one of the longest players on tour. His most recent outing at the match play event wasn't his greatest, but that should have been expected given Johnson's record in the format, per the AP's Doug Ferguson:
Dustin Johnson was picked to go a long way in a lot of brackets. This was the 5th time in 6 appearances he lost in opening round.— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) February 20, 2014
Which 20-something has the best chance of winning?
Johnson had a runner-up effort at the Northern Trust Open and a tie for second at Pebble Beach prior to that. In other words, the powerful American is tearing it up in stroke play. As long as Johnson's putter is functioning, he should be a legitimate contender at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
It's never a good idea to count out Kuchar based on his sheer consistency. He always seems to be near the top 10, and his malleable game is fit for just about any course. In five official starts in 2013-14, Kuchar has four top 10s already.
Funny enough, the 20-year-old sensation chasing Kuchar up the world rankings is Spieth, who knocked the defending champion Kuchar out of the match play with a clutch birdie. Stephanie Wei was impressed with Spieth's precocious ability in the clutch:
And how about Jordan Spieth! Rolls in his 9th birdie for the win over Matt Kuchar 2&1. Kids these days! #matchplay— Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) February 21, 2014
Things got worse from there for Spieth, though, as he lost to Ernie Els as part of a start to 2014 that's seen the prodigy contend often but falter toward the end. For the first time ever on tour, Spieth let his emotions get the best of him, as he displayed a sour countenance and dropped clubs more than ever before.
Spieth realized he was in the wrong, vowing to learn from his mistakes:
I'm embarrassed about the way I acted on the course today.. Played like the 13 year old version of myself mentally. A lot of positives..— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) February 22, 2014
..From the last three weeks and ready to come back strong at Doral! Everybody has tough days and I'll handle it better next time for sure— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) February 22, 2014
That kind of perspective shows that Spieth has the makings of becoming the next legitimate superstar—if he doesn't already deserve that label.
There has hardly been a dull moment on the PGA Tour over the past month or so, which is a sign that the brand is as strong as ever and that more willing winners are stepping up and getting it done. So many captivating individual storylines are grabbing headlines and bolstering interest in every event.
The WGC-Cadillac Championship should be yet another excellent showcase of golf, and with how stacked the field is, there's a strong chance the winner may even come from outside these best-of-the-best groups.