Beware the Blue Monster

The best and brightest the PGA and European Tours have to offer will this week accept the challenge of the revamped Blue Monster course at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Set at the Trump National Doral golf resort in Miami, the Blue Monster has been strengthened with the addition of new bunkers, water hazards and additional tees – the work of renowned architect Gil Hanse.

In fact, Hanse describes the work he’s done as resulting in, essentially, a new golf course. About the only thing players can take from the layout of previous years is that it still has a par of 72.

Each of the holes has a new measurement, and the course now measures a far more imposing 7,481 yards. Eight of the holes are in fact shorter than they were before, but that only emphasises how much length was added to the remaining 10 – typified by the par-5 10th, which now measures a massive 614 yards.

The greens, all 18 of them, have also been recreated. Stats in and around the putting surfaces rated amongst the easiest on the PGA Tour last year, but that degree of comfort should be a thing of the past.

Considering the degree of the overhaul, past form should count for little when assessing the chances of the 68 players set to tee it up this week. They’re all in effect faced with a brand new challenge.

Rory McIlroy returns to action, fresh off what was a very good week for him at the Honda Classic, despite the disappointing stumble right at the death.

A double-bogey, bogey finish on 16 and 17 threw away the lead McIlroy had enjoyed all week, and the Northern Irishman could not clinch the ensuing four-man play-off.

Still, McIlroy’s form is definitely returning, and he’s clearly more comfortable with those Nike clubs he’s carrying. If there’s any chance he’s forgotten how to win big tournaments, expect him to remember again very soon.

Whatever the question mark over McIlroy, there is a much larger one over Tiger Woods, who hasn’t yet been able to string four good rounds together this year.

The World No 1 also withdrew from Sunday’s final round at PGA National, citing a back injury, and it’s not yet clear if he’ll even be fit in time to play this week.

All in all, this might not be the best time to back Tiger, even if he’s still third-favourite with the bookies this week at 14/1.

Adam Scott, meanwhile, returned from a six-week break to finish tied-12th at the Honda last week. That was his worst finish in his last eight starts – a testament to his recent reliability.

There are a number of American PGA Tour regulars who are in good form and capable of winning come Sunday – including Northern Trust Open champion Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson – and don’t forget recent Match Play champion Jason Day.

Phil Mickelson will be there, and the unpredictable left-hander is more than capable of shaking things up as well.

Amongst the Europeans, the highest-ranked players include the returning-from-injury Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia.

Of those three, it’s Garcia who has been the most consistent this year, and another win for the Spaniard might not be far off.

As for the conditions the players can expect, a cold front could bring some rain and strong winds on Thursday, but calmer, drier conditions should prevail by Friday.