The only thing Hunter Mahan liked about the end of his round at the Cadillac Championship on Friday was his name being atop the leaderboard.
Mahan stretched his lead to four shots until he stumbled with a pair of bogeys toward the end of his second round at Doral, had to settle for a 1-under 71 and suddenly had the No. 1 player right on his heels.
Martin Kaymer, in his second week atop the world ranking, played bogey-free in a steady breeze for a 70 that put him one shot behind Mahan and in the final group, a position that is becoming familiar.
”I hit a lot of good shots, just didn’t finish as strong as I would have hoped,” said Mahan, who was at 9-under 135. ”But I’m pretty happy with where I am.”
Francesco Molinari, going after his second World Golf Championship, had a 68 and joined Kaymer at 8 under.
Mahan brought more than Kaymer back into the game. Dropping those two shots — one of them one a long three-putt at the 14th, the other on a poor tee shot at the 16th — brought a host of others into the mix on the Blue Monster.
Rory McIlroy (69), Matt Kuchar (69) and Nick Watney (70) were among those two shots behind, while Dustin Johnson (69) and Adam Scott (70) were another stroke back.
Tiger Woods, a three-time winner at Doral, was not among them. Neither was Phil Mickelson.
Woods again struggled with his putter, missing four birdie putts inside 10 feet and looking bad at the end. A pair of 6-foot birdie attempts at the 16th and 18th holes never had much of a chance and he wound up with a 74, nine shots behind.
Even so, the lasting image of Woods will be a pair of tee shots.
He hit a smother hook with the driver on the second hole, which traveled only 122 yards — about the same distance he typically hits a sand wedge. Then came a pop-up on the 14th hole.
”It’s pretty tough not to giggle,” U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell said about Woods’ tee shot on No. 2. ”We all hit bad shots. Hit a couple of those in my time. The guy is working on his golf swing, and every now and again, you have a few weird ones in there.”
When someone suggested he didn’t appear to be having fun, Woods didn’t look like he was having fun answering the question.
”You’re not going to have a lot of fun when you’re nine back,” he said. ”I don’t know if a lot of people are very happy with that.”
Mickelson dropped three shots when he returned to finish the storm-delayed first round, including two shots in the water on the par-5 eighth for a double bogey that led to 73. He was slightly better in the second round with a 71.
McDowell called a penalty on himself when he noticed the ball move during his putting stroke on the ninth. That gave him a 73.
Woods and Mickelson will be paired Saturday, the first time they have ever been in the same group for three straight rounds. They could be just a warmup act, however, being so far out of contention.
Kaymer is becoming an intimidating name on the leaderboard.
He won the Abu Dhabi Championship by eight shots to start his season, and reached the final of the Match Play Championship two weeks ago in Arizona. With seemingly little effort, he is right back in the mix.
Mahan had a chance to beat the ”Germanator” at the Match Play until losing a late lead.
”It’s quite impressive, his run,” Mahan said. ”He seems mentally tough and that’s what separates him. And he’s a great putter. But he’s playing great. He’s actually winning, and that’s what sets the good players and great players apart.”
McIlroy, who played in the last group with Kaymer in Abu Dhabi, said he looked at the second spot on the leaderboard to assess his chances going into the weekend.
”Even though Hunter is a couple of shots ahead of me, to give Martin a stroke lead is going to be pretty tough to sort of keep up with him,” McIlroy said.
A dozen players were separated by four shots going into the weekend, including defending champion Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington.
Kaymer had to play eight holes in surprisingly cold weather — so cold that Mahan donned a ski cap in Miami — and shot 66. He was steady in the afternoon, never a serious threat to chase down Mahan, just hanging around.
It was the work of a No. 1 player, and one that doesn’t figure to relinquish it any time soon.
”Especially after the PGA Championship, a lot of people thought that this may be the end of my career, especially in Germany,” he said. ”For me, it was very important that I keep winning. Of course, I’m happy and I’m very satisfied. But it’s not the final satisfaction.”
It was tough for Ryo Ishikawa, Yuta Ikeda or Hiroyuki Fujita to take much satisfaction out of whatever they did. The three Japanese players in the field struggled with news of the devastating earthquake at home.
Ishikawa at least was able to contact his family just northwest of Tokyo before resuming his first round in the morning, and he shot a 65 to trail Mahan by one. The afternoon was a struggle, mostly because of the wind, and Ishikawa shot 76.
”I received a communication from my father, and the message was, ‘Focus on your golf, we are fine, do what you need to do,”’ Ishikawa said. For the second round, he said, ”It was simply that the Blue Monster decided to be what it’s known to be.”