Bubba Watson and Justin Rose put on an amazing show of birdies in blustery conditions at Doral, making 17 between them while playing in the same group Friday at the Cadillac Championship.
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Their playful duel was decided by Watson’s eagle, giving him a 10-under 62 and a one-shot lead.
Watson belted a 3-iron that barely got over a palm tree, carried over the water into the wind and settled 6 feet away on the par-5 eighth for an eagle putt that gave him a one-shot lead over Rose.
Mark Wilson, the third in that group, shot a respectable 70 and was just along for the ride.
”They did everything right,” Wilson said. ”It was some of the best golf I’ve seen collectively between them.”
Watson was at 12-under 132 and will get to play again in the final group Saturday with Rose, who had to settle for a 64.
”Maybe they’ve been cutting the hole a little bigger,” Rose said.
Despite the steady wind, there were plenty of low scores on the Blue Monster. The average score was 69.9, close to three strokes easier than the opening round. There were 12 scores in the 60s on Thursday, and 31 of them Friday.
Tiger Woods played bogey-free for a 67 and actually lost ground. He moved up the leaderboard, but is seven shots behind going into the weekend, with 14 players ahead of him.
”This is the highest score I could have shot today, for sure,” Woods said.
Rory McIlroy, in his first tournament as the new world No. 1, managed a 69 and fell 10 shots off the lead.
Perhaps most peculiar about Watson being atop the leaderboard at Doral is that he really doesn’t like the course. Without many trees except for the waving palms, he can’t figure out where he’s supposed to be hitting the ball. But he kept hitting it long, had short irons into the greens and made his share of putts. That works just about anywhere.
As always, there were a few shots that only Watson can see.
He was so far left of the sixth fairway, that a tree was blocking his path to the green. Watson had only 135 yards to the hole, but instead of playing a sand wedge, he hit 9-iron and aimed it some 20 yards right of the green, slicing it back into the left-to-right wind beyond the hole until the wind pushed it back on the descent. It landed 6 feet from the cup.
His caddie, Ted Scott, keeps notes in the yardage book of how Watson plays each hole in every round. Next to the 9-iron from 135 yards, he put in parentheses, ”Wow.”
There was another ”wow” inscription two holes later.
Watson was in the fairway on the par-5 eighth, but the best path to the green was around a palm tree near the ropes where the photographers were camped out.
”I took it right up the edge of that tree. There’s a little tree there and it actually nicked that limb a little bit,” Watson said. ”I hit it as hard as I could, just a low, what everybody calls a stinger. Hit as hard as I could low and knew it wasn’t going to slice. So all I was protecting was the draw and it went dead straight and came off perfect. And the rest is history.”
He went from one shot behind to one shot ahead of Rose, who had nothing to apologize about his 64. Rose, who contended last week in the wind at the Honda Classic, ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn, the exception coming on the 18th.
Rose was among those caught up in the Bubba show.
”I don’t let it influence my game plan, the way I play the golf course, but definitely you keep one eye on him just out of interest,” Rose said. ”He’s a fun guy to watch play golf. When he hits tee shots, there’s a bit of disbelief and stuff like that, or he curves one, starts one in the trees and there’s `Ooohing’ and `Aahhhing’ when it goes back into the fairways.
”No one knows what to expect and I think it’s fascinating to watch.”
Even with the tees moved slightly forward and slightly less wind, the par-4 18th still played difficult. There were five birdies, compared with only two birdies in the opening round.
Adam Scott had one of them, holing a 20-foot putt for a birdie-birdie finish that allowed him to recover from a double bogey on the eighth hole. He shot a 68 and was at 10-under 134, two shots out of the lead.
”Right where I want to be,” Scott said. ”The guys shot some unbelievably good scores out there today, so I knew on that back nine as I was kind of falling a long way behind, I needed to step it up, and I was happy the putter really came through for me. Tomorrow, I’m just going to have to be really sharp, because there’s no doubt again there are going to be low scores out there.”
Peter Hanson, who reached the quarterfinals of the Match Play Championship, took another step toward trying to secure a PGA Tour card. He had a 65 and was alone in fourth in this World Golf Championship.
Thomas Bjorn has yet to make a bogey in 36 holes and had another 68. He was four shots behind, tied with PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who had a 67. The group at 7-under 137 included Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and former PGA champion Martin Kaymer.
”You’ll take that any week,” Bjorn said. ”I’m not making a big number of birdies, obviously, but when you can keep big mistakes off your scorecard, that’s the key to this golf course. It’s very easy to make some big mistakes and it’s difficult to get it back.”