DORAL, FLA. >> Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy are the top three players in the world golf rankings, which assures them of absolutely nothing this week.
Doral hasn't been overly kind to any of them.
Spieth has been over par in five of his eight rounds there over the last two years, Day has posted two rounds in the 60s in his last 16 attempts at the Blue Monster, and McIlroy — who won at Doral as a 9-year-old — casually tossed his 3-iron into the water after a bad shot last year, a fairly strong indicator of how he would assess his play.
Yet they'll have the bulk of the attention Thursday when they'll be in the same group at the opening round of the Cadillac Championship, the first of the four World Golf Championships.
"Everyone's fighting for the same prize," Spieth said. "When we get out there, we're playing our own game. I don't think any of us are buying into any added motivation or excitement because of the pairing. I don't think we would at any point. Not trying to downplay it, but for me personally, I would say it's going to be a lot of fun ... but I don't think any of us are buying into the 'Big Three."'
Spieth's last outing was a rare-for-him missed cut at Riviera. Day was tied for 11th at Pebble Beach in his most recent event, and McIlroy missed the cut last week at The Honda Classic. It's their first time being in the same tournament since September.
"I've played a lot with Jason and a lot with Jordan over the past few years, but we haven't really played much together in a three-ball," McIlroy said. "So the next two days are going to be enjoyable. It will be good out there, hopefully a little bit of buzz around that group, very much looking forward to that."
Buzz won't be in short supply this week.
The winners of the last 13 major championships are in the field, Dustin Johnson is back to defend the title he won at Doral a year ago when he overtook J.B. Holmes in the final round and it's all going to play out on a course owned by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump — who is expected to appear at some point before the final putt drops on Sunday.
"Obviously, this is a great tournament," Johnson said. "It's got a great field. I won here last year, but since last year we've played a lot of tournaments. So it's not like I just won here and I'm coming back. It's been a year but it definitely feels good. It gives me a lot of confidence coming into this week and like I said, I just want to put myself in position to have the chance to win on Sunday."
The Blue Monster rewarded Johnson's patience last year and plenty of players were talking about taking a similar approach this week.
Spieth went nine consecutive holes without a par in last year's final round and wound up losing two shots to par in that stretch because his five birdies were more than canceled out by a triple, a double and two bogeys. Day and McIlroy each made 17 birdies at Doral a year ago — just like Johnson did — and were nowhere near the winner by the 72nd hole, doomed by errors along the way.
"I was too aggressive last year, so I think a little bit more conservative on the par 5s," Day said. "I don't play the course that bad. It's just the mistakes that kill me. I've got to try and be a little bit more conservative that way."
Spieth remembers making an 8 on the par-4 14th two years ago at Doral, a mistake that could have cost him a shot at a top-10 finish. He wound up tied for 34th.
So this week, his thinking is that any blunder will come with a stiff penalty.
"If I can play this tournament under par, I think that would be a good, solid goal," Spieth said. "I think I can certainly improve on that. But that's something I haven't done in my two trips here. It's a challenging course. And that's what I'm considering; solid momentum going forward from here would be trying to beat this golf course instead of it getting the best of me."