Posted on: March 8, 2012 10:40 am
Edited on: March 8, 2012 12:04 pm

Trump: Doral will sparkle like never before

By Steve Elling

DORAL, Fla. -- A consummate showman, billionaire real-estate mogul Donald Trump has a lot of P.T. Barnum in him, and he certainly knows how to feed the media beast.

But when the guy talks about golf, you know it's not just blather and bluster intended purely for hype. The guy plays the game, is a single-digit handicapper, pays attention to the professional tours, and reads stories about the state of the sport.

As Trump was introduced on Thursday as the new owner of the Doral Golf Resort & Spa, which will undergo a $200 million makeover over the next three years, he promised he'd be a responsible steward and the end result would rock.

Doral, a landmark, has hosted the PGA Tour for 50 years, including this week's Cadillac Championship, which features the best field so far this season.

"We think that Doral has just tremendous opportunity, it's a tremendous location, 800 acres right smack in the middle of Miami, and we look to make this one of the great places anywhere in the world for golf," said Trump. "It needs a lot of work. It's a little bit tired and that's okay, and we are going to do something special."

Trump basically stole the place at fire-sale prices, paying $150 million, or roughly $187,000 per acre. The Blue Monster will be completely made over by Gil Hanse, who on Tuesday was named as the architect of the 2016 Olympics course in Brazil.

"That price allows me to pour some money into this thing," he said.

The Blue Monster will be shut down immediately after the 2013 tour event, Trump predicted, and be closed for six months during the redesign. Marriott is exiting as the hotel operator on June 1 when the property changes hands, and Trump said the clubhouse and hotel would remain open the entire three-year project while undergoing rehab in stages.

The driving range will effectively double in size and Trump indicated he is toying with the idea of morphing the Red and Gold course into the re-do, and possibly making one big-league-sized course by combining the acreage of the two.

Trump said he hasn’t decided what the venue will be named, excepting one part of the equation.

"I’ll always be keeping the name Doral in some form," he said.

Trump shot the breeze after the formal press conference about Rory McIlroy's win last week at Honda, the state of Tiger Woods' game and Phil Mickelson's re-emergence. He definitely keeps his finger on the pulse of the pro game and wants the sport to fit in seamlessly with the new purchase.

"We are going to do this really right," he said. "I enjoy it, and I view it as a business, but it's not my main business. But more importantly, I will spend much more money on fixing Doral than somebody else, because somebody else is looking on return on investment; I'm not. I'm looking to make an amazing place, and the return will come. I think it's a good thing for golf."

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 4:02 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 5:26 pm

Yes, really: Tiger, Lefty in a Masters friendly?

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson planned to play a round at Augusta earlier this week but Woods backed out at the last moment. Mickelson joked that Woods was intimidated. (Getty)

By Steve Elling

DORAL, Fla. -- Guess they'll have to settle for their battle three weeks ago at Pebble Beach.

Though it sounds hard to believe, when Phil Mickelson made his annual trip up to Augusta National earlier this week for some Masters recon, he spent his practice time solely with new running mates Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley.

That's because Tiger Woods was a no-show.

Mickelson said Wednesday at the Cadillac Championship that two marquee players had planned to play together, but it fell through.

"I guess it was the intimidation," Mickelson cracked.

Playing in the same group as Woods three weeks ago at the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, Mickelson came from six shots back in the final round, shooting 64 to win. He beat Woods by 11 strokes that day.

In fact, Mickelson was full of whistling one-liners about Woods on Wednesday. When he was asked about the 8-under 62 that Woods shot last Sunday in the final round of the Honda Classic to nearly come from behind to win, Mickelson was in prime form.

"Obviously, [Tiger] was paying attention a couple of weeks ago, which is nice to see," he said, causing laughs from many in the room.

Some in the room clearly didn’t get the reference to Pebble Beach.

"At least I thought it was funny," Mickelson said, making a hand motion above his head. "Whoosh."

Publicists for both players said after Mickelson's press conference at Doral Golf Resort & Spa that they had no personal knowledge of any plans for the two to play together at Augusta National.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 3:13 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 4:14 pm

Woods leads Tavistock roster picks at Lake Nona

By Steve Elling

DORAL, Fla. -- It's intended by design to be a boutique event, yet has been derided for being closed to the general public and characterized as a glorified cash grab for players, among other insults.

Nonetheless, it's back for iteration No. 9.

The Tavistock Cup matches this year will be held at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando, with four six-man teams competing for an array of cash and assorted prizes.

The two-day event will be held March 19-20, the Monday and Tuesday of the Arnold Palmer Invitational across town at Bay Hill Club & Lodge. The four clubs participating all have ownership ties to the corporate host of the event, the Tavistock Group.

All the back story aside, Tiger Woods is playing, so some eyeballs will surely be watching on the Golf Channel, which will air live coverage.

The roster for Albany, a club located in the Bahamas, features Tim Clark, Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Woods. Isleworth’s lineup is Robert Allenby, Daniel Chopra, Charles Howell III, Sean O’Hair, Bo Van Pelt and Bubba Watson.

Lake Nona, which won last year, has Ben Curtis, Ross Fisher, Retief Goosen, Peter Hanson, Graeme McDowell and Gary Woodland. Team Queenwood, a club from England, is made up of Thomas Bjorn, David Howell, Soren Kjeldsen, Tom Lewis, Paul McGinley and Adam Scott.

Lewis is an intriguing pick. He turned pro last season after a stellar performance in the British Open as an amateur and is entered in next week's PGA Tour event, the Transitions Championship, outside Tampa.

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Category: Golf
Posted on: March 7, 2012 1:32 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 5:43 pm

Hanse wins Olympics nod, wants golden ending

By Steve Elling

DORAL, Fla. -- The sports of golf is filled with various niches, including equipment, the professional, college and amateur ranks, not to mention the design business.

In the sport's admittedly insular world, the selection of the designer for the 2016 Olympics course in Rio de Janiero has been a talking point for months.

After a bidding process and a few delays, rising architect Gil Hanse was selected from a group of eight finalists Wednesday and was introduced at Doral Golf Resort & Spa, where he has been retained by new owner Donald Trump to re-do the Blue Monster.

An early rendering of Hanse's course is above. There's a lagoon on the sand-soiled property, which he described as similar in terrain and vegetation to Australia's famous Sandbelt region, where Royal Melbourne is located.

While the course will surely morph along the way, but Hanse said he hopes to finish the course with a series of what he called "half-par holes."  

"A short par-4s, short par-3, reachable par-5," Hanse said. "Half‑par holes are where things can happen. You get really good [momentum] swings. Some people are afraid to finish golf courses that way because they don't want guys walking off going birdie, birdie, eagle.

"I think it would be awesome if they did that. I think we want to try to promote aggressive play at the end of the tournament. 

"This is the first time somebody is going to have a gold medal around their neck since 1904. There's a lot at stake and if we can have somebody really do something special down the stretch, that would be great."

Construction is set to begin this fall with a completion date in mid-2015.

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Category: Golf
Posted on: March 7, 2012 11:54 am
Edited on: March 7, 2012 5:51 pm

Casey shoulders slow start in Ryder year

Paul Casey dislocated his shoulder on Christmas Eve which delayed the start of his 2012 season.

By Steve Elling

DORAL, Fla. -- Paul Casey knew the photo would induce oohs and ahs.

On the sideline since Christmas Eve with a dislocated shoulder, the first photograph the former world No. 3 revealed on his cellphone showed a large, red blob in the middle of the picture, prompting at least one cringe among the scribes within viewing distance.

Then again, actual injury X-rays he produced a moment later were even harder to eyeball.

Back from a lengthy layoff after sustaining a shoulder injury while snowboarding in Vail on Dec. 24, Casey is making his first start of the year this week at the Cadillac Championship at Doral Golf Resort & Spa.

Unlike the first photo he produced on his phone -- a funny photo of himself dressed in a large, red Teletubby costume -- the reality of his situation is pretty black-and-white, just like the X-rays he produced with a few more flicks of the thumb. He's missed about 20 percent of his traditional season, was unable to defend a title he won on the European Tour, and has played one full 18-hole round since the injury.

"I think my expectations are fairly low," Casey said, laughing.

Finally close to full strength, at around 90 percent in the affected right shoulder, he's got to catch up with the rest of his ever-evolving peers. For the first time, during the layoff, he's been watching golf on TV -- and it's been some of the most exciting stuff on the PGA Tour in years.

"It was inspiring to watch," said Casey, 34. "It lit something, to get back to where I was before or even better."

It's amazing how much can change in the blink of an eye. When Casey, wearing wrist protection and a helmet, slipped on some ice while taking a snowboarding lesson, Luke Donald was entrenched as No. 1. He's since been supplanted by Rory McIlroy, while Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods seems to be rounding back into top form, too.

"I've done it long enough to know that there's always new, fresh faces, and it's moving," Casey said. "You're right, it's moving very, very quickly. But ultimately it's myself against the golf course."

If not his ... doctor? While explaining his shoulder injury, Casey actually said, "I'm not an expert at injuries," with a straight face. In actuality, he's had lingering problems over the past three years with an intercostal injury to his ribcage and painful turf toe on his right foot. All three maladies have forced him to miss multiple starts in the prime of his career.

"I'm clearly the freshest guy out here," he cracked.

Casey hasn’t suffered much in the grand scheme, dropping to 26th in the world ranking, but there's another ledger out there where he's really behind the pack -- the race for the European Ryder Cup team later this year in Chicago. It's not much of stretch to characterize his points total as, "nothing," as Casey put it.

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It's not quite that dire. The European team is composed from two points lists, and Casey is ranked 19th and 41st, with plenty of time to move up if he can play his projected 25-tournament schedule. For starters, he's playing three of the next four weeks, including the Masters. He's also playing at Houston, where he picked up a victory two years ago.

He didn’t qualify for the team two years ago in Wales and was passed over as a captain's pick.

"I don't think it adds any urgency or any pressure," Casey said. "I would love to make that team. I want to make that team. I think I will make that team. I've just got to play the golf I know I'm capable of and start winning tournaments and that will take care of itself."

On the plus side, he hasn’t missed any majors, so there's plenty of points and cash up for grabs. Casey surely sounds like a gung-ho, motivated man, that's for sure. Now, if he can just chip away the rust.

"I've got an awful lot of work to do, but if the body -- if I just stay off the snowboard -- then there's no reason why I can't get that work done and get the golf game back to where I was in 2006 or better," he said.

As for the X-rays, the two shots are of Casey's shoulder before and after his right arm was popped back into place. When it was dislocated, it was actually handing several inches lower than his left arm.

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Posted on: March 7, 2012 10:10 am

Rory McIlroy, and the Oakley Experience

Rory McIlroy celebrates both his Honda Classic victory and becoming No. 1 in the world. (Getty Images)

By Shane Bacon

Two weeks ago, I got an e-mail from someone with Oakley asking if I’d be interested in heading out to the Honda Classic to check out their new line of apparel, spend some time with a few of their athletes, and, well, hang out “Oakley style.” 

Little did I know that their new line of gear is incredible, the athletes included soon-to-be world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and “Oakley style” basically means “become one of the family,” so I accepted begrudgingly because I’d just spent three weeks traveling outside of the country, and frankly, I was tired.

But the trip was a success mainly because it allowed me to see a few things about the company and their newest star in Rory. 

First off, Rory. You know from his game that he’s a stud, but spending a little time with him, even from an observation deck, made it clear to me that he gets it, unlike a certain someone we media folks have dealt with for years and years. Rory spent time with media members, occasionally opening up his iPhone to show pictures, laughing along with a few of the guys and talking candidly. The few minutes I got to observe McIlroy in the flesh had me convinced that this was his week, and the tournament hadn’t even started yet. 

If you’re in the media in any context you get your chance to be around athletes. Some are quiet and scared of what celebrity-ism brings. Others are loud and fun and enjoy the life of the party, knowing that their life is better than yours and occasionally showing you that with no regret. Then there are people like Rory. The quiet, confident assassin that at just 22-years-old makes you think he’s 30, and with the demeanor and drive to not only be great, but to be historic. Winning in bunches this next decade is going to be tough, because the talent level is very even, but if you had to bet on one player to pull ahead of the rest, and claim four or five wins a year, Rory sure seems like that guy you should go all-in with. He carries that aura and doesn’t mind it. He knows he’s the star in a room full of players. He doesn’t mind holding the torch, no matter the heat. 

And the fact that Oakley signed him makes even more sense after you spend some time with their guys. A confident group by design, the sunglasses speak for themselves (one of the display had us shoot large BBs at the glasses at 140 MPH and they didn’t penetrate which makes you feel a lot more confident when you have friends with the golfing abilities of my bunch), but it is their push into apparel that has everyone excited. The lightest golf shoe in the world. Designs that can go from a calm blue to a rainbow splash on displays right next to each other (and, btw, a golf jacket that comes out soon that has solved that “zip off your sleeves when it’s raining but you’re too warm” annoyance we’ve all encountered on the course). 

Hanging with the boys over 18 holes of golf was, simply, comfortable. They want people to enjoy their products and feel like if McIlroy and others are sporting the stuff it must be the best, but these employees are just as much a part of the Oakley culture as the celebrities they pay seven figures to. 

How was the experience at PGA National? Incredible, but not in a corporate way. It was incredible because it was a group of people inviting you, accepting you, and having a good time with you, occasionally showing you why they are in the golf business to stay but mostly just showing you that the group understands a mantra most don’t; work should be fun, and fun it is. 

A meet-and-greet with McIlroy is a special thing, but standing back and watching how he can light up a room is exciting. 

The kid has “historic” written all over him, and there is a reason the letter “O” is in that word. 

Posted on: March 6, 2012 6:51 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 11:35 am

Turns out, McIlroy's wired for prime time

Rory McIlroy tees off during his practice round on Tuesday in Miami, Fla. (Getty)

By Steve Elling

DORAL, Fla. -- Lee Westwood ran across Luke Donald on the practice green on Tuesday, and given what they've recently had in common, the pair began a comical exchange about the state of affairs at the top of the game.

Westwood, never one to miss a chance at a good joke, turned to Donald, a fellow Englishman and said. "Good morning, No. 2."

Donald, unseated from the top spot in the world rankings on Sunday by Rory McIlroy, after Donald had had displaced Westwood from the same perch 40 weeks earlier, looked at Westwood and nodded.

"Yeah, it's sort of a bit of a relief," Donald told Westy. "There's only one way to go when you're No. 1. At least there's more than one way to go at No. 2."

At which point, Westwood's quick-quipping caddie, Billy Foster, interjected, "Yeah, No. 5."

Cool as McIlroy is playing it at the moment, it could be a long time before the 22-year-old gets displaced, regardless of the fact that Donald and Westwood can reclaim the top spot with a victory this week at the Cadillac Championship at Doral Golf Resort & Spa.

Don’t much like their chances, frankly.

Fresh off a two-day trip to the Big Apple to watch his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, play an exhibition at Madison Square Garden, McIlroy wheeled into Doral late Tuesday afternoon and proved fairly conclusively that he is equipped with all the tools to be the No. 1 -- including the precious gift of poise.

Even after a whirlwind 48-hour span since he became the second-youngest player to reach the top of the world ranking, McIlroy remains as collected as when Tiger Woods threw a career-best closing 62 at him Sunday at the Honda Classic.

He arrived at Doral utterly unruffled, nonplussed and rifling off all the proper missives needed. After years of enduring the rather grumpy sort who occupied the same throne for most of the past decade, in his first public appearance since climbing to No. 1, McIlroy was an impressive study in confidence, self-deprecation, charm and insightful analysis.

That's the public-relations Grand Slam, right there. We're all getting to know the Ulsterman, bit by bit, and the puzzle pieces are impressive. The Northern Irishman has always been open and honest, and he didn’t waste a minute reaffirming that, to the delight of anybody who will read the comments about his career arc, Woods, or the perceived mantel of being a marked man.

For instance, McIlroy didn’t at all mind admitting that having Woods throw everything he had at him at the Honda made it all the better. Well, sort of.

"To be honest, I was probably thinking to myself, 'Could it not have been anyone else?'" he said, drawing huge laughs.

He not only survived, but thrived. If it was the passing of the generational torch, Woods tried to burn down Rory's house first.

"I can sit here and lie and say that it didn't feel better to have Tiger post a score and to be able to play solid," McIlroy said of this two-stroke win. "It maybe made it feel a little sweeter than if it had of been someone else."

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Whoever wrote, "heavy lies the crown," missed the boat with this guy. McIlroy shrugged off the presumed pressure that being the top man on the totem pole carries and said it's all a matter of individual taste and style.

"It depends what type of mind you have and if you thrive in the spotlight, if you welcome it," he said. "I feel like I do thrive in the spotlight, and I like the attention. Not that I'm an attention-seeker, but you're doing something right when you're in the spotlight." 

A modern kid in a highly electronic world, McIlroy is clearly wired the right way. Monday night, Wozniacki waved him onto the court at MSG and he traded a few lobbed volleys with her equally famous exhibition opponent that night, former Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova. A shrinking violet, he isn’t and McIlroy "won" the point, to the delight of the crowd.

Think about it: Everybody's different, but can you envision Woods ever putting himself in a similarly spontaneous situation before thousands of fans and a live TV audience, where he could have looked like a complete clown? Of the foursome that has occupied the No. 1 perch since Woods cavated the throne, McIlroy not only seems best-suited for the long haul, both because of his skillset and age, but the demands of celebrity,

"I'd love to keep myself here for a while," he said. "I know that it's inevitable that I'll lose [the ranking] at some point, that's for sure. I just hope that it's a little further away.

"I don't feel like I'm under any pressure to keep the No. 1, because that's not what I play golf for. It's about winning tournaments, and if I win tournaments, the ranking will take care of itself."

The shock and awe of the achievement are not likely to rattle him, given the company he keeps. He received congratulatory messages from the manager of Manchester United, Alex Ferguson, and the team's star player, Wayne Rooney. Greg Norman checked in, too, just like dozens of others.

They all have hailed the new boy king. Unlike the reign of another No. 1, who shall remain both obvious and nameless, we are not expecting an era of tyranny and oppression from McIlroy, who is anything but suspicious, paranoid or defensive. Indeed, his manner is as refreshing as the Atlantic breezes that buffet the Doral facility.

As his father, Gerry, said last year when McIlroy elected to rejoin the PGA Tour for 2012 against the counsel of his management, "He's his own man."

That's becoming evermore evident, which is remarkable given his age and fast-track climb to top billing. He isn't surrounded by an army of handlers. His swing coach is in Ireland. His caddie, J.P. Fitzgerald, eschews the limelight. Nothing seems out of proportion. It's the way McIlroy wants it.

He received mountains of unsolicited feedback after blowing the 54-hole lead at the Masters last spring at age 21, and listened to precious little of it, really.

"I mean, you take it on board; the stuff that you might not think is relevant, you just sort of let it go," he said. "Even if you pick up one or two things that some people might say, you hold on to that and maybe try to put it in practice. 

"Most of the time, I try to figure things out on my own. I think that's the best way to do it."

Judging of his annihilation of the U.S. Open record book two months later, the evidence suggests he's right. The only player to reach world No. 1 quicker was Woods, who climbed the ladder at age 21. Though the comparisons seem premature, if not unfair, plenty of newshole has already been expended comparing the early trajectory of McIlroy to that of the 14-time major winner.

McIlroy handled that ticking time bomb like an adroit professional, too.

"I'm going to let other people make the comparisons," he said. "I've never said that I want to be the next anyone. I just want to be the first Rory McIlroy and however good that turns out to be, then I'll try my best to win tournaments and to win majors and to be best player in the world.

"But it's never like I set out to win 18 majors like Tiger has. I've always just wanted to win golf tournaments, ultimately to win majors, and to be No. 1 in the world. I've been lucky enough to win a major and get to the No. 1 position, but there's still a long road ahead and I feel like I can accomplish a lot more."

You'd have to be catatonic to bet against it. As none other than Jack Nicklaus pointed out, with a major already to his credit, McIlroy is a step ahead of most players. Moreover, McIlroy has already seriously contended at all four majors over his brief pro career.
"I've never let anyone tell me that I was too young to do this or too young to do that," he said. "I felt at some times last year, a lot of things happened to me so quickly in such a short space of time, and it didn't matter if I was 22 or 32.

"I feel like I've handled everything pretty well. I've definitely matured a lot and I've learned a lot in the last couple of years. So everything that's happened to me has been hugely positive and you know, it's nice to be sitting here at 22 and have the No. 1 ranking and to have won a major."

Introspective, easygoing and humble? Hold on, because this could be quite a ride.

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Posted on: March 6, 2012 4:46 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 4:51 pm

More info comes out about Tiger and the SEALS

Tiger Woods spends time at Fort Bragg in 2004. (Getty Images)

By Shane Bacon

Just when we thought the Navy SEALS story about Tiger Woods was dead, revealed even more from the upcoming Hank Haney book and it’s even more intense than you think.

"The Big Miss" is the upcoming Haney account of his time with Tiger, and while the book hasn’t hit the stores yet, pieces keep leaking and it just gets juicier and juicer. 

So we know that Tiger thought about becoming a Navy SEAL, but how intense was he? According to the book, incredibly. Tiger went on multiple training sessions with the SEALS, and even did a three-day parachute training session just 18 days before the 2006 U.S. Open, which prompted the following e-mail from Haney to Woods.

With the U.S. Open 18 days away, do you think it was a good idea to go on a Navy SEALs mission? You need to get that whole SEALs thing out of your system and stick to playing Navy SEAL on the video games. I can tell by the way you are talking and acting that you still want to become a Navy SEAL. Man, are you crazy? You have history to make in golf and people to influence and help. Focus on your destiny, and that isn't flushing bad guys out of buildings in Iraq. Just play the video games some more. That Navy SEAL stuff is serious business. They use real bullets.

The four page excerpt on has even more about his infatuation with the SEALS, saying Tiger went as far as to play SEALS-based video games for days on end and even told Haney they’d make an age-exception for him if he wanted to join, but your best bet is to head over to their site and read the whole thing for yourself. 

Tiger might have dismissed questions about this last week, but the more information that comes out, the more he’s going to get the random reporter wondering just how far he was willing to take this idea before he finally snubbed it. 

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Category: Golf
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