(Reuters) - An elite field including the top 50 in the world rankings will vie for supremacy at this week's WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami where the infamous Blue Monster course will once again pose a daunting challenge.
Last year, only four players were below par at the midway point of the $9.25 million event and many questioned the fairness of a layout which had been extensively redesigned since the 2013 edition of the World Golf Championships event.
Business magnate Donald Trump poured $250 million into renovating the Trump National Doral Resort, and the Blue Monster was stretched by 150 yards with more bunkers and trees added while greens were completely reworked with testing undulations.
"The greens are very firm again which is going to make it tough," world number one Rory McIlroy said on Wednesday while preparing for Thursday's opening round.
"Since the course was re-designed, the last couple of years it has been in fantastic shape. Previous years, it was scraggly and sort of messy in places but they've done a really nice job with it."
World number seven Sergio Garcia felt increased familiarity with the Blue Monster one year on should help players this week.
"We all know the course a little bit better now," he said. "We know how much tougher it is. We kind of know what to expect."
Masters champion Bubba Watson, a runner-up at Doral twice in the last three years, described the course as being in the best shape he had seen.
"The greens are perfect, the fairways are unbelievable," said the American left-hander. "The challenge around here is trying to hit your drive halfway decent; miss the water, miss the bunkers and make putts.
"Last year it was rock hard as a brand-new golf course. I happened to just survive it, made a few putts. Finished second."
Fellow American Patrick Reed became, at the age of 23, the youngest winner of a World Golf Championships event with a one-shot victory at Doral last year and he believes the course will be just as challenging this week.
"There are some minor changes out there but it almost feels like it's playing about the same as it did last year," said Reed, who clinched the fourth PGA Tour title of his career at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January.
"Hopefully I can continue playing some good golf here and have a chance coming down Sunday."
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue