There's something impure about buying into the hype of the World Golf Championships, a relatively recent PGA Tour contrivance that's a big cash grab and some free world rankings points. The four-event series is not held on any courses of great renown. There are a couple with history, but this is not some formidable rotation. The prestige does not approach that of the majors, none of which the PGA Tour owns or operates. The whole thing just seems a little forced.
And yet, it's hard not to be excited about this week's WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. We watch the WGCs because all the cash and those easy rankings points consistently draw the best fields of the year. That's the case again this week, when, for the first time this year, all members of this new arbitrarily named "Big Four" will play the same event. Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Rickie Fowler are the primary headliners, but at the WGCs, almost every guy in the field is a stud.
One defining characteristic of the WGCs is that they're the smallest, most exclusive non-Playoff events of the year. The fields often don't exceed 70 players and there's no cut. It's hard to get an invite and the Tour hosts a concurrent event for the great unwashed who couldn't qualify (this week's opposite field event is the Puerto Rico Open). With the field so small right from the start, there's obviously no need to hurry everyone through the first 36 holes so a cut can be made by Friday night.
For the first two rounds, the Tour will keep them in groups of three and off split tees, just condensing the entire field into a two-hour block of tee times. At last week's Honda Classic, the first group was off before 7 a.m. and the last group did not finish before darkness. This week, everyone can sleep in, eat a nice, long breakfast, practice, and then head out on the course and play for a guaranteed check (even the last-place finisher on Sunday will earn $47,000).
The marquee tee time, and the one that makes this WGC must-watch, is obvious. The players are grouped by world ranking, so Spieth, Day, and McIlroy will play the first two days together. That's as good as it gets and they will go at 11:32 a.m. ET in the first round. The other benefit of these small fields at the WGCs is that rounds tend to move faster. The first and second round at the WGC-Bridgestone in Akron routinely come in under four hours. That's ambitious at Doral, where the winds and water hazards on almost every hole can clog things up and make the rounds drag. But it should still be a relatively smooth operation all weekend.
Golf Channel will have the first round coverage, coming on the air at 1 p.m. ET. That marquee group should be about seven holes into their round, but PGA TOUR Live will stream the entire thing from the start and GC's pregame show should have live look-ins of those earlier holes. There are stars in almost every group, but the bigger names farther down the tee sheet and playing almost all their round during the TV window include Fowler, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, and Sergio Garcia. Here's the full tee sheet for Thursday's opening round:
Off No. 1 tee:
|11:10 a.m.||Kristoffer Broberg||Scott Hend||Fabian Gomez|
|11:21 a.m.||K.T. Kim||Andy Sullivan||Bernd Wiesberger|
|11:32 a.m.||Jamie Donaldson||Nathan Holman||Scott Piercy|
|11:43 a.m.||George Coetzee||Danny Lee||Steven Bowditch|
|11:54 a.m.||Jason Dufner||Robert Streb||Victor Dubuisson|
|12:05 p.m.||Billy Horschel||Graeme McDowell||Bill Haas|
|12:16 p.m.||Shane Lowry||Jimmy Walker||Kevin Na|
|12:27 p.m.||Zach Johnson||Brooks Koepka||Louis Oosthuizen|
|12:38 p.m.||Bubba Watson||Rickie Fowler||Henrik Stenson|
|12:49 p.m.||Patrick Reed||Branden Grace||Sergio Garcia|
|1 p.m.||Marc Leishman||Matt Kuchar||Paul Casey|
Off No. 10 tee:
|11:10 a.m.||Kevin Kisner||Phil Mickelson||J.B. Holmes|
|11:21 a.m.||Hideki Matsuyama||Danny Willett||Brandt Snedeker|
|11:32 a.m.||Jordan Spieth||Jason Day||Rory McIlroy|
|11:43 a.m.||Justin Rose||Dustin Johnson||Adam Scott|
|11:54 a.m.||Charl Schwartzel||Justin Thomas||Anirban Lahiri|
|12:05 p.m.||Martin Kaymer||Daniel Berger||Ross Fisher|
|12:16 p.m.||Harris English||Chris Wood||Matthew Fitzpatrick|
|12:27 p.m.||Charley Hoffman||Emiliano Grillo||Kiradech Aphibarnrat|
|12:38 p.m.||Yusaku Miyazato||David Lingmerth||Smylie Kaufman|
|12:49 p.m.||Russell Knox||Byeong-Hun An||Jordan Zunic|
|1 p.m.||Soren Kjeldsen||Marcus Fraser||Rafa Cabrera Bello|