I am back in the US for the final run into the first major of the year. I missed last weeks WGC event as it didn’t suit my preparation for the Masters. I like to play two events immediately before a major and if I had played in the CA championship then it would have meant playing four events before Augusta; I definitely play my best in three week runs, and feel that by the time I get to the third event I am really ready to play. So with this in mind I am back in New Orleans for the Zurich Classic. I have played this event twice before; the first time the year before the Hurricane and then the year after. The first year I played it was on the TPC Louisiana course which is where it is also being played this year.
I had a good week off last week and I took it somewhat easy. I did a small bit of practice but not too much. A lot of the work I did was on my short game and not as much technical work as I would normally do. This was partly due to the fact that I only got home on Monday night, and that my son Patrick was on his Easter holidays so I spent quite a bit of time messing around with him. It means that I am coming into this event in a little better shape than I usually am after time off, but still not quite where I would like to be.
I traveled out on Sunday so as to try and get the jet lag out of the way early and to do a bit of work on my clubs again. After knocking them more flat for the Ballantine’s Championship I have decided that they were a bit too flat. I wasn’t able to play the course on Monday as there is always a Monday pro-am on the PGA Tour, so I spent Monday doing a bit of practice and fiddling with my clubs. After speaking with Ron Graham who looks after me over here for Wilson we decided that it would be best to go with my regular clubs and stick with the same length but knock them one degree flat from what I have been using. We reckoned that this was the best approach as I know what these clubs do and so once I am fully comfortable with the lies and lengths that I want it would then be best to put the new heads into play. So Monday was spent working on my short game and hitting a few shots to see how they felt. The problem that I have is that I really have to use them in a competitive round before I know how they really are. I played the course on Tuesday morning which was early for me as the jet lag had me up early and the course was much tougher than I remembered. The clubs felt fine in the practice round so fingers crossed that they are fine come the tournament. After playing I spent some more time on the range working on my short game, in particular trying to get used to a 64 degree wedge that I will be using for the next few weeks. I used one in Augusta last year and it is definitely a club that can save you some shots around there but I hadn’t used one before and so I wasn’t fully comfortable with it. This year I am making sure that I am happy with it in tournament play before I get there.
I played early in the pro-am on Wednesday which was nice as it meant that I got to play the course and get my work done and finish early. I played fine in the pro-am; hit a lot of good shots but some bad ones too. In general the bad ones came about out of poor focus or from thinking about my swing over the ball, nothing new in this for me! After I played it was back to the putting green and the chipping green, as I have promised myself that I am going to spend a lot of time working on the short game over the next two and half weeks.
We are back playing on the TPC Louisiana again this year, it was partly washed away after the Hurricane and last year was the first year back. This is a really tough course, measuring 7,341 yards and the ball is not running on the fairways so it feels really long. It is definitely playing a lot longer than when I played it last. On top of this most holes have a fairway bunker or water down one side of the hole which makes you want to stay away from that side and so push you down the longer side. While the fairways aren’t running the greens are firm which makes it very hard to get the ball close to the hole especially as the greens are quite undulating. The more I played it the more I felt it was really good preparation for the Masters. The other feature of this course is the long par threes. I seem to have been hitting my four iron to nearly all of them. It’s relentless with regard to long irons; it seems that’s all I have been hitting. There are plenty of tough holes on this course and as far as I am concerned there aren’t too many easy ones. The par threes are really tough holes as they have plenty of length in them and three of them have water. The three holes that I would pick out to watch are the 13th, 17th and the 18th.
The 13th is a 377 yard par four and a dogleg left. There is a bunker all down the left which is 300 yards to carry, if you can carry this then it is possible to make the green. If you decide to lay it up there is a tree in the middle of the fairway that can cause problems. It is a hole that you want to make birdie on but it can easily end up catching you out.
The 17th is a 215 yard par three with water all down the left and a bunker on the right. From the tee the green looks tiny, in practice it has played into the wind which has made it a very tough hole. A three here is a great score! As the second last hole of the tournament it is definitely going to have a say in the outcome of the week.
The 18th is 589 yard par five. Again this hole has water down one side; the right hand side. It is possible to reach this hole in two but very risky as the water goes all the way down from the tee to the green. Left of the green is heavily bunkered which means that a bail out can leave you with a difficult up and down. The sensible play here looks like laying it up to 100 yards and taking your chances of making a birdie from there. The tournament certainly won’t be won until this hole has been safely negotiated. Par here is not necessarily a bad score.
This is a very tough course that is playing very long and the area normally gets quite a bit of wind to add to the toughness. Pars on this course are hard to come by and I wouldn’t expect anyone to go mad with the scoring here. As ever I am trying to get myself into contention on Sunday afternoon but I am also looking to the Masters; I have put in a new wedge and taken out my nine iron to accommodate it so really my main focus is the Masters but I will naturally be trying hard to win this week as well.
I am playing with Daniel Chopra and Stewart Cink for the first two days, teeing off at 12.13pm on Thursday and 7.43am Friday.
It turned out to be a decent week for me in New Orleans, a tie for fourth place wasn’t too bad. I got myself into contention as I had hoped for but this time it didn’t quite work out as I would have liked. However it was good preparation for the Masters in a couple of weeks, by being in contention to win a tournament you find out the areas that need work. I only tend to see what needs to be worked on when I have been under a bit of pressure and have to perform.
The main aim for me coming to this tournament and next weeks in Houston is to prepare for the Masters but it doesn’t mean that I am not trying to win them, so to get into contention and not win is disappointing. It would be great to win all the events that you get into contention in but I have learned over the years that the key is to make sure that you give yourself enough chances as you will always miss out on some. For me the best way to ensure that I am at my best for a big event is to play two tournaments before it as it takes me a couple of weeks to get set. This was evident to me this week even though I managed to finish well. I had done some practice when I was at home as I normally do but I hadn’t quite got my preparation right in the practice days this week, so when I got to the first hole of the tournament I wasn’t quite ready; which is easily seen from my start in the tournament.
After my first four holes of the week I wouldn’t have laughed at anyone if they told me that I would finish fourth and have a chance to tie the leader on the last hole of the week. After four holes I was three over and really struggling, I had hit two of the biggest wides of my career and made a bogey and a double bogey. I didn’t know where I was going to hit it off the tee and was a total mess. The reason behind this was that I did a small bit of practice on Wednesday evening after the pro-am because I was loosing a few drives to the right. I spent some time trying to get myself to release and hit it with a draw; it worked because when I came out Thursday I felt that I was going to hit everything left and then as a result I ended up hitting them way right to protect against it going left. Luckily I managed to sort out my head going down the 5th hole and made a birdie to settle things down. Birdies at the short par five 7th and the 8th got me back to even par for the day and made me feel quite a bit better. I was still wary of where I was going to hit it but it was getting better; in the end I made two more birdies and one more bogey to end up shooting one under. It was a good comeback after my start but when I finished I felt like I could have done better but I wasn’t complaining. I shot a two under 70 in the second round to be three under heading into the weekend, again this round should have been a lot better but a couple of silly mistakes meant that I left a few shots behind me.
The weekend was quite a lot better but it was still littered with silly mistakes. I shot rounds of 68 and 69 over the weekend to finish in ten under for the tournament. My 68 in the third round which was played over Saturday and Sunday due to bad weather was blighted by two mistakes that cost me three shots. On the 10th tee on Saturday I got distracted before I hit my drive and ended up hitting out of bounds, I should have stood off the shot but I didn’t and a result I hit a bad shot. I bogeyed the 15th after a sloppy chip shot again down to poor concentration.
In the final round I played quite well and gave myself plenty of chances starting out but all my putts just slipped by the hole. A poor drive on the 4th cost me a bogey, a shot that I wasn’t able to get back until the 9th. I was getting a bit frustrated as the front nine went on as I wasn’t holing anything and then after a really good tee shot with a four iron into the 9th left me with a 16 foot birdie putt which I duly holed, which got me going; I made another birdie on the 11th to get me to eight under and then made birdies on the driveable 13th and the par three 14th. This put me ten under for the tournament and right in the mix. The 16th tee was moved up so that we could drive the green, I went for it but missed it right; I hit a poor chip with my 64 degree lob wedge, left it short, but holed from off the green for birdie. I hit another good four iron into the 17th to give me a 12 footer for birdie but unfortunately I missed it. At this stage I checked to see where I stood; it left me two behind with one to play.
I knew playing the last that I needed an eagle to tie Romero; I hit what I thought was a very good drive but the wind never moved it. It finished in the bunker right of the fairway, 226 yards from the pin. Knowing that I needed an eagle I went for the green with a five wood but again I got distracted just before I hit and again I didn’t stand off it and I ended up hitting a bad shot into the water. In the end I made a good bogey to finish fourth but the most disappointing thing about it was that I didn’t stand off the five wood shot.
Even though I finished well this week it didn’t go as I would have liked, I made a number of silly mistakes as a result of not being ready to play. When I look back over the week I can pick them out, the tee shot on the 10th in the third round and the five wood on the last are just a couple. It was disappointing to have these mistakes but not surprising to me. It tells me that I have to do some work on my mental game next week so that it is all ready for the Masters. The fact that I got into contention considering the mistakes I made gives me confidence though; it is hard to pick out the reasons for doing well but one of them is that I made the most birdies of the week.
So all in all it was a somewhat disappointing week as far as getting things right is concerned but a good week in terms of result. The fact that I got into contention will stand to me when I get to Augusta; the key for me in the coming week is to make sure that I get my preparation right so that I don’t have to try and find it when I get to the Masters.
Talk to you all soon,