Doral Ryder Open
Doral Ryder Open
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Bradley hoping to make comeback

Top players skip Doral

Wondering about the impact on the PGA Tour schedule as a result of the three World Golf Championship events?

The first casualty appears to be the Doral-Ryder Open, which begins this week at the Blue Monster Course.

Doral apparently is suffering fallout from the Andersen Consulting Match Play begin staged at La Costa -- on the opposite coast -- last week.

In the past, Doral had as much luster as any tournament without the word major being associated with it. The oldest Florida Swing event (it was first played in 1962), it has been the traditional kickoff for the top stars on the Tour readying their games for The Players Championship and the Masters.

For instance, Mark O'Meara, the 1998 PGA Tour player of the year, had competed in the last 12 Dorals. Tiger Woods and David Duval, the two brightest young stars on Tour, played here every year since they turned pro. Fred Couples has played every year he's been healthy since 1983. And Davis Love III has played 11 of the last 12 years.

None of them will be here this week. And Woods, Duval, O'Meara and Love are the Fab Four, Nos. 1-4 on the current World Golf Rankings. Last year, Doral attracted five of the top six on the World Rankings.

Doral tournament director Scott Montgomery was disappointed that there was no consultation with the PGA Tour about scheduling the World Match Player the week before Doral.

"We had no option," Montgomery said. "And that's the way the Tour operates. They dictate to you, and they didn't seem to care too much about what putting the Match Play in that date would do to the oldest tournament on the Florida Swing, and one that has been one of the top events of the year for more than 30 years.

"We would have liked to discuss some alternatives, but we were never given the chance."

But there will still be a good field prowling the Monster this year, better than your average B.C. Open. Past winners such as Greg Norman, Raymond Floyd, Steve Elkington, Nick Faldo and defending champion Michael Bradley will play, as well as Vijay Singh of Ponte Vedra Beach, Justin Leonard, Nick Price, Ernie Els, John Daly, Mark Calcavecchia, Bernhard Langer, Eduardo Romero, Patrick Sjoland and Billy Mayfair.

Other area players in the field will be Fred Funk, Blaine McCallister, Len Mattiace, Frank Lickliter and Charles Raulerson.

"It's a great field, and with guys like Norman, Daly, Price and Elkington, there will be good galleries," Montgomery said. "Ticket and sponsorship sales are strong and the people of South Florida will continue to support this event."

But there's no masking the disappointment at not having Woods and Duval, to continue their battle for the No. 1-ranking in the world. Woods won't play again until the Bay Hill Invitational in his adopted hometown of Orlando, while Duval will be idle until his home town tournament, The Players Championship.

"I think the days of some tournaments getting all the good players are over," Montgomery said. "We never got all the players. Just a lot of the good ones."

The grind of the World Match Play event was cited by many players, though not in specifics as it related to their Doral plans. But the words "mentally exhausted" and "fried" were heard from more than one top player. And the question begs: will there be tournaments that suffer because they're in close proximity on the schedule to the World Golf Championship events?

The next tournament where organisers figure to get nervous may be the Sprint International in Castle Rock, Colo., an August event that will be one week before the NEC Invitational at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. Many top pros played the Sprint, because of the unique Stableford scoring system and the Rocky Mountain beauty surrounding the course. Also keeping a nervous eye on players' schedules may be the Canadian Open, scheduled for the week after the NEC.

Calcavecchia, however, says the defections from the Doral field have just as much to do with disgruntlement over the refurbished Monster. Floyd supervised a redesign of the course last year, and the results were more bunkers, deeper bunkers and larger bunkers, as well as more rough.

"I don't think the Match Play has much to do with Doral field," Calcavecchia said. "The reason why some of the guys aren't playing Doral is the way the course is now from the way it used to be. It's not as good as it was, and I thought it had been one of our best.

"It reminded me of Pebble Beach in that if there's no wind, it's an easy course. Doral was meant to be played in the wind, and if it blew, it was going to be hard. But all the sand and things they did do it turned some guys off."

Calcavecchia said one beneficiary would be the Honda Classic next week, at the Tournament Players Club at Heron Bay.

"The the word has got out that Heron Bay is a good course, always in great shape," Calcavecchia said. "It's nothing spectacular ... everything is right there in front of your. But the conditions are great, and some guys skipping Doral are turned on by Honda. It will help the Honda field."

However, Doral head professional Harold Rowland said modifications have been made to the course, including addressing the bunker problem. One critique players had was that the sand was so soft, relatively short chips or pitches that found bunkers were plugging severely.

"We used machines to pack the sand down in the bunkers, and then we're going to hand-pack them," Rowland said. "I don't think you'll have that plugging that there was last year.

"Plus, our rough is growing a lot more evenly. Last year, it was so wet, that the rough grew inconsistently, and the players weren't happy about that. This year, the rough should be much better."

Rowland also said some bunkers have been made smaller -- both in depth and overall size. Among the notable changes is to a fairway bunker on the left of the 14th hole (made smaller) and the back bunker at the par-4 15th (now shallower).

The front bunker at the water-guarded par-3 ninth hole also no longer runs right to the water's edge. A grass buffer between the front edge of the bunker and the water has been put in.