After two weeks of strokeplay it is time for the Accenture World Match Play in Tucson. This is a totally different week to a normal tournament. For starters it is matchplay, and it also starts on Wednesday and from Friday onwards you play 36 holes a day. In a regular strokeplay tournament you spend your time trying to get yourself into position for the final nine holes on Sunday. The first three and half days are all about not blowing yourself out of the tournament rather than winning, whereas this week as each match is only eighteen holes it means that you are trying to get your nose in front early as there isn’t much time to make up a deficit. Matchplay is a great form of golf, although one I would not want to play every week! As an amateur most of the tournaments that I would have played were under the matchplay format but now as a professional we only have a couple of events a year that are this format. Its great for the spectators and the television viewers as there tends to be more birdies than normal as players are firing at more pins. More things tend to happen in matchplay also; it always seems that there are more putts holed. I suppose from the point of view of the tournament the fact that the best player can be knocked out by the lowest ranking player in the field makes it exciting.
Last year I struggled at this event, I just wasn’t fully ready for tournament play. I won my first match against Lee Westwood when really I shouldn’t have and then got beat in the second round by Stewart Cink. This year I am in a similar boat to last year. It is still very early in my season and I am not fully “match fit.” I had a good finish last week and as a result people are thinking that everything is in good shape; while it was getting better as the week went on last week it still isn’t quite there. I am still unsure as to what to expect when I get started on Wednesday morning. It really could be anything.
This is the second staging of the tournament here in Tucson. Last year Henrik Stenson won. This course is somewhat like we would see in the Middle East, the landing areas are big and so are the greens but if you miss the landing areas then you are really in trouble as the scrubland is covered with cacti and other rough and prickly vegetation. You really don’t want to be taking on any shots from the waste areas here! The course measures 7,351 yards which is quite long but it doesn’t play anything like its yardage due to the fact that it is at altitude and due to the heat. I would say that you could take five percent of the yardage to get a more realistic figure. It is a great matchplay venue as there are plenty of holes that will throw up birdies and there are plenty of holes that will cause problems. The greens are very big which can make it hard to get the ball close to the hole. They area also heavily sloped which makes them very tough although it does reduce the number of pin placements they have. The one feature I remember from last year is that it was a tough course to come back on as the pin placements were very tight to the edges and as a result it suited the guy in the lead as he could hit it to 20 feet all day. The holes that can make or break matches this week are the four par fives and the two drivable par fours. Three, probably four of the par fives are definitely on for the bigger hitters, the first short par four is reachable for everyone whereas the second is probably just out of range for some of the field. In this format you feel that you have to take advantage of the scoring holes or else you will end up losing them. As everyone is attacking the course you know that you have to make plenty of birdies.
I have only played eighteen holes in practice this week; which is due to a number of reasons. I am still feeling the effects of the flu I had last week and also I know that it has the potential to be a long week as there are eight matches to play for the winner. So I felt that it was best to take it easy on Monday and limit my practice; I did a small bit of practice in the range working mainly on my routines and then spent a bit of time working on my bunker play and chipping. I feel that this week everyone’s short game will be tested as the greens all have run offs around them and the fact that we will be taking on more pins than normal means that we will probably end up missing more greens as well. On Tuesday I played the course with Niclas Fasth and Colin Montgomerie, we played a match to try and get us into the matchplay feel. It is difficult in practice as you want to play well but you don’t want to play too well; I always think of Lee Trevino’s quote “the worst round I ever shot was 63 on a Wednesday.” This is a funny week as the higher ranked player is expected to win their match but yet it is not that easy. It is the top 64 players in the world so there are no easy matches. It can be easy at times for the lower ranked player as they are not expected to win. I am playing Jerry Kelly in the first round and I know that I will have a tough match; Jerry is a very good player and a very tough competitor. In an eighteen hole match anything can happen, generally it will ultimately come down to whoever holes the putts.
I would prefer it if this tournament was later in the year and we were playing a stroke play event this week as it would give me more chance to get myself ready for the tournament. However there is nothing I can do about the timing of the event. I am here to play and try my best; I am still not quite 100 percent but it is at least getting better. My aim for my match is to go through my routine in full before every shot. If I can do this then I know that I have a chance. As I said earlier I am not sure what to expect from my game, I know that Jerry will be a tough competitor and that no matter who wins it will not be easy. I have to get my mind into the sprint mentality for each match; this is tough as I spend the whole year telling myself that it is a marathon and not a sprint. For this week only I have to forget that and try and get going early.
I play Jerry at 8.08 am Tucson time which is 3.08 pm Irish time.
My first three events in the States are over and I am back home for a two week break. Last week the Accenture Match Play went pretty much as I would have expected. I showed some promise but ultimately my lack of competitive play caught up with me. My first match went a lot better than I would have hoped for but even in that match I could see that I was making a few mistakes due to my rustiness. Over all the three weeks went better than I would have hoped for in relation to results but just as I expected in terms of my focus and mental approach.
At the start of the week I really wasn’t expecting much as I knew even after getting into contention in L.A. that I wasn’t quite tournament ready. My first round match was against Jerry Kelly. I know Jerry well and get on very well with him. Knowing your opponent can sometimes make it harder to play them as you never want to beat them too badly. I also knew that Jerry wouldn’t give up at any stage as he is a dogged player that try’s to get the best out of every hole. I got off to a good start and won the first with a birdie against his bogey. It was the start I was looking for; when you are not 100%, winning the first gives you a little bit of a cushion. We halved the next two holes in par for me to remain one up; the 4th hole was probably the most crucial hole in the match as it turns out; we both hit good drives, Jerry hit his second shot to about 25 feet. I hit my second shot with an eight iron to eight feet; at this stage I was looking favourite to win the hole. However, Jerry didn’t see it that way! He holed his putt to leave me having to make mine just to half the hole. However I did hole it and from here on I didn’t look back. I made birdie on the sixth to go two up and then we both drove the seventh green to half the hole in birdie. On the par three 8th I hit my tee shot left which left me with a very awkward two putt. Jerry followed me, hit a poor chip to ten feet and I managed to putt mine up to three feet which I ended up holing for a win. A birdie on the 10th put me four up and cruising, only to be knocked back when he birdied the 11th for a win. I nearly drove the 12th to set up another winning birdie to put me four up again. I lost the fourteenth to a par after we both missed the green left and Jerry got it up and down but then I closed out the match on the 15th with a winning par. It ended up being a relatively easy win but I knew that it could so easily have been the other way as I got away with a few shots.
Winning my first round match meant that I set up a rematch with Stewart Cink, who beat me in the second round last year. I knew that it would be a tough match as Stewart is a solid player, doesn’t make many mistakes and putts very well. This would be a tough match even if I was well into my season. I got off to a very good start again; I got it up and down from the bunker short of the first green for a birdie four to win the hole. Then we halved the next three holes in par. Then on the par five 5th I got it up and down from the bunker 30 yards short of the green for another winning birdie to put me two up and in good shape. Then on the sixth hole I slipped hitting my second shot and as a result I pulled it left into the desert; from here it took me three more to get down and Stewart two putted to win the hole with a par. This gave Stewart the opening he needed; he hit a good tee shot into the 8th to leave six footer for birdie which he holed for a win. We halved the 9th in par to be level and on the 10th we both hit the green in two. However, I three putted to lose the hole and then a poor drive on the next which put me out of position. I got a free drop but didn’t take advantage of it. I hit my second over the back and then got up and down for a par but Stewart had hit his second to five feet and holed it to go two up. We both drove it up just short of the 12th green and got them up and down. The 13th was a crucial hole for both of us, Stewart drove it up the face of the bunker and I hit a good drive. Whilst he could only hit it down the fairway, I hit my second to eight feet and then he stiffed his third shot for a par. It meant that I had my eight footer for a win but I wasn’t able to hole it. It was a disappointing halve as I was looking a hot favourite to win the hole. I did manage to get one back on the next hole after I chipped in for a birdie but then I handed it straight back to him when I hit my three wood into the bushes on the left of the 15th. This put me two down with three to play; we halved the 16th in pars which meant that I was dormie two down. I made a birdie on the 17th after I hit my second onto the edge of the green which was good enough to win the hole as Stewart had to lay up. This left me one down playing the last, the same as I was last year! I drove it into the fairway bunker which effectively put paid to my chances of winning the hole. I hit it on the green but too far from the hole; I two putted and Stewart ended up holing his putt to win by two holes.
It was disappointing to lose but it wasn’t unexpected. When I had to hit the shots I just wasn’t able too as my focus wasn’t quite there. It is only when you are under pressure to hit shots that you find out how good your focus and mental approach is. It ultimately came down to my lack of tournament play that cost me during the three weeks, not just the last event. I am off for the next two weeks now before I head off to Korea, so I will be trying to get my routines and focus in better shape for then.
Talk to you all soon!