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Florida swing starts at Doral

Tiger Woods is off resting after a brief West Coast swing that included a pair of wins and a fifth-place finish. No. 2-ranked Ernie Els is over in Dubai, seeking to reclaim some of his dominance after a first-round loss at the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. No. 3 Phil Mickelson is at home with his wife preparing for the imminent birth of their third child. No. 4 Vijay Singh is still nursing a sore pectoral muscle.

So what is in store for the Ford Championship at Doral? Plenty.

To get around the Blue Monster Course at Doral Resort and Spa, players need to bring a complete arsenal. The course plays to a par of 72 and a reasonable 7,125 yards, but whipping coastal winds are the norm for this time of year and the course can be expected to be a true test of shot-making.

Except for Jim Furyk's eye-popping, record-tying 23-under-par performance in 2000, the winning score five of the past six years has ranged between 10- and 18-under. With some wind this week, expect a winning score closer to single digits.

While the world's top four players are in absentia, the Ford Championship has still assembled a quality field.

For one, PGA Tour money leader Mike Weir is entered. With two wins under his belt this season, he is as good a player as any to pick to be in contention come Sunday. This season on Tour, Weir ranks third in scoring average, seventh in putts per round, 13th in driving accuracy and 15th in greens in regulation. Plus, Weir was runner-up to Joe Durant just two years ago at Doral.

Since 1990, Aussies have had a good run at Doral. Greg Norman and Steve Elkington have combined for five wins during that span. While Norman is skipping this week, Elkington is in the field along with countryman Peter Lonard.

Elkington, who made three of four cuts out west, has displayed some signs of going low, but has also struggled with consistency. In his best finish (tie for 17th) at the Nissan Open, Elkington shot 68-73-67-74. Since 1995, Elkington has two wins and two top-five finishes at Doral, including a joint fifth in 2002.

Lonard is coming off an impressive run at the Match Play Championship, where he finished fourth. The Aussie was 6-down to fellow countryman Adam Scott after eight holes, but pulled to within 1-down before losing. A year ago, Lonard finished third at Doral behind a couple of guys named Els and Woods.

While on the topic of last week, David Toms appeared to have found his game. He is also in the field, but has nothing better than a joint third in 1999 at this event. How fatigued he is from having played nearly seven rounds in five days after having food poisoning remains to be seen, but if his confidence is still cresting, he could be a factor.

KEEP AN EYE ON ... : Furyk is a past champion who is flying somewhat under the radar. In four stroke-play starts this season, Furyk has finished no worse than 33rd and has two top-10 finishes. ... Nick Price was runner-up to Elkington in 1997 and is coming off a solid performance at the Match Play and finished third the week before at the Nissan Open. With swing changes firmly in place, expect Price to add to his string of four straight top-10 finishes at Doral.

 

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