WGC - Cadillac Championship: Bubba can go one better at Doral

Bubba Watson - one of The Punter's picks at Doral
Bubba Watson - one of The Punter's picks at Doral

A stellar field assembles in Florida on Thursday for the year's first World Golf Championship and our man's been busy studying the form. Read Steve's in-depth preview here...

"Bubba Watson’s a mercurial character, as capable of absolute brilliance as he is of bizarre petulance but he’s a winner and he clearly likes this venue.

Tournament History

First staged in 1999 and known as the American Express Championship, the WGC-Cadillac Championship began life as a nomadic event, visiting Spain, Ireland, England and various venues in the States before the tournament was given a permanent home at Doral in 2007.

The WGC-Cadillac Championship is the first of the year's four World Golf Championships. With a limited field made up of the world's best players, there's plenty of cash up for grabs and no halfway cut.


Venue

TPC Blue Monster at Doral, Doral, Florida


Course Details
Par 72, 7,481 yards
Stroke index in 2014 - 73.85

Doral has been a regular on the PGA Tour since it first hosted the Doral Open in 1962. That event was later known as the Ford Championship and it was staged until 2006 when this event replaced it on the PGA Tour schedule. It earned the nickname "The Blue Monster" because water is in-play on the majority of holes and it was a really tough test - the first two winners of the Doral Open won with a score of -5.

Technological advancements meant that year-after-year the winners were easily reaching double-digits under-par and the "Blue Monster" tag was a becoming a bit of a joke - Tiger Woods won here in 2013 with a 19-under-par total, but that was to be the last time the field enjoyed an easy ride...

The TPC Blue Monster was bought by Donald Trump in February 2012 and all 18 holes were reworked by Gill Hanse prior to last year's tournament. The result was dramatic. There were just seven bogey-free rounds all week last year and 318 balls found a watery grave. The previous record was 220. Wind did have a say in last year's result but even so, Patrick Reed's winning score of four-under-par emphatically showed that Doral was once more a monster.

Just like last week's venue, PGA National, Doral is a wind-affected Bermuda course.


Useful Sites
Course Site
Course Details
Twitter Link
Tee Times
Weather Forecast
Alternative Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days - starting on Thursday

Last Five Winners

2014 - Patrick Reed -4
2013 - Tiger Woods -19
2012 - Justin Rose -16
2011 - Nick Watney -16
2010 - Ernie Els -18


What Will it Take to Win The WGC - Cadillac Championship?

Length has always been an asset around Doral and it proved to be so again last year when four of the first five home ranked inside the top-ten for driving distance. Reed ranked fourth, joint runner-up, Bubba Watson, third and Dustin Johnson, alongside Richard Sterne in a tie for fourth, hit it further than anyone else all week. I thought accuracy off the tee might be more important after all the changes but that wasn't the case. Reed ranked 52nd and Watson 63rd and none of the eight winners of this event have ever ranked inside the top-12 for driving accuracy.

Greens in regulation wasn't a vital stat last year and Reed ranked just 34th. Scrambling and putting proved more important than anything else and given the course was toughened-up so much, that's perhaps not surprising.

What really changed dramatically last year was the requirement to make lots of birdies. Prior to the course changes, five winners in-a-row made more birdies than anyone else but Reed only ranked seventh 12 months ago and only two others that finished inside the top-12, Thongchai Jaidee and Charl Schwartzel, who ranked tied for 4th, ranked inside the top-ten for birdies made.

If last year's result is anything to go by, Doral has changed from a birdie-fest to a major tournament-like grind although some things haven't changed. To play well at Doral, you need to handle the Bermuda greens and the blustery winds.


Is There an Angle In?

There's no doubt that the West Coast Swing and the Florida Swing are very different and nobody advertises that better than the 2008 winner, Geoff Ogilvy, who missed three straight cuts out West before a 10th and 14th in Florida preceded his win here, but we can't just dismiss form on the West Coast Swing - four of the eight winners of this event since it switched to Doral had previously won on the West Coast and being in-form has been crucial. And now that the course has been toughened-up, I fancy being right on your game is going to be essential.

Of the first four home last year, Reed had previously won the Humana Challenge, Bubba the Northern Trust Open and Dustin Johnson had been runner-up twice - behind Bubba at Riviera and Jimmy Walker in the AT&T Pebble Beach. And Jamie Donaldson was playing better than his form figures suggested given he'd been inside the top-six at halfway at the Honda the week before.

This is not somewhere to suddenly find your game and 2015 winners are well worth a second glance.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Since moving to Doral, five of the seven men to win here (Tiger Woods has won it twice since 2007) have won a major and the two exceptions are, or possibly were, top-drawer. I'm a big fan of the bullish Reed and if he were to win a major or two in the near future I wouldn't be in the least bit surprised and the other odd one out, Nick Watney, arguably should have won a major. He traded heavy odds-on in the 2010 USPGA Championship at Whistling Straights before a calamitous finish and he's not been the same since.

Expect the cream to rise to the top here and even more so now that the course is more demanding.

And finally, Floridians and Florida residents are always worth a second glance.


In-Play Tactics

A year after winning the final Ford Championship at Doral, wire-to-wire, Tiger Woods won the first staging of this event here in 2007. He trailed by four strokes after round one before leading all the way from halfway and that's the furthest any winner has trailed after round one in this event.

Woods was tied for 10th in 2007 but every winner since has been inside the top-five after just 18 holes and four of the seven have won wire-to-wire. This really is a front-runners course and I don't see that changing now it plays harder. Reed won wire-to-wire last year and whoever's leading on Thursday night will require more than a second glance.


Market Leaders

Having lost a ball on his very first hole at the Honda Classic, Rory McIlroy never really got going and eventually missed the cut at the PGA National. That may prove to be a blessing in disguise given all the weather delays and the Monday finish and I can certainly see him improving.

His form in this event reads 20-65-10-3-8-25 and with just one win from 18 starts, his record in Florida is nothing to write home about either. He'll enjoy the better conditions this week but he didn't appear to enjoy the course after the changes 12 months ago and I'm more than happy to swerve him at the price.

Jason Day will benefit from having last week off after a couple of weeks in-contention but he sat out the event last year and will be disadvantaged by playing the new layout for the first time. And he's never really played well here before anyway. From three starts he's never bettered a tie for 20th and he's another one I'm happy to leave out.

Bubba Watson gave himself just too much to do last year when he opened up with a 73 but he finished the week just a shot shy of Reed and on -3 and he was one of just three men to break par. His finish when defending the Northern Trust Open last time out was a bit disappointing when he fell from 7th to 14th in round four but it's never easy to defend and I fancy him to go well again here.

With form figures reading 35-56-2-35-12-4, Dustin Johnson seems to play this event far better than he does any other in Florida and given the form he was in until last week's missed cut at the Honda, he can't be discounted. His from in the Sunshine State really is poor though with the fourth and second placed finishes here being his only top-tens in 21 starts. And he's missed the cut in Florida ten times.

Selections

With the Honda Classic running so late, the market for this event hasn't properly settled yet so I may have another selection or two in time and if I do I'll post them to Twitter and add them to the preview later but for now I'm going for just two before the off - Bubba Watson and Brooks Koepka.

In addition to finishing second after a slow start last year, Bubba also finished runner-up in 2012, when he blew a four-stroke lead with a round to go, and he also led here after round one in 2013 before fading to finish tied for 18th. He's a mercurial character, as capable of absolute brilliance as he is of bizarre petulance but he's a winner and he clearly likes this venue.

This is Brooks Koepka's first start in the event but that didn't stop Patrick Reed 12 months ago and given he's from Florida, I'm going to assume he's got plenty of course experience. He's a big-hitter with a win under his belt already (Phoenix Open) and I'm not too worried about his slightly disappointing effort at the Honda, where he finished a disinterested tied 51st.

Very much like Reed was last year, Koepka is a classy performer on the up and I thought he was worth chancing at a bigger price than he was last week at a venue that should suit him better.


Selections
Bubba Watson @ 18.017/1
Brooks Koepka @ 48.047/1

I'll be back tomorrow with this week's De-brief and my previews for both the Africa Open and the Puerto Rico Open.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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