It is the last tournament before the first major of the year, a lot of players like to take the week off and work on their game at home but I much prefer to play in a tournament. Ever since my amateur days I have always tried to play at least one event before a big tournament, in recent years I have discovered that my optimum schedule is to play two events before a major. I find that it is the best way for me to get ready is to try and get myself into contention in other events and get used to having to hit shots under pressure.
Last week was a good week with regard to my result, but as I said in my review of the week, I did a lot of things wrong in the build up, and was somewhat lucky to get into contention in the end. However once I got there I was happy with how it went, with the exception of the last hole! The best thing of it all was getting into contention and getting some more practice of trying to win a tournament. I know it is a funny thing to hear me say but I always find it hard to perform at my best under pressure in my early season events as I haven’t been there for a while and I have been focusing on technical issues.
I am in Houston this week for the Shell Houston Open; this is my third year playing here. I haven’t really done well here in the previous years but I have found it very useful in getting me ready for Augusta. It is quite a different course but they set it up with very little rough and very fast greens so that anyone playing next week feels like they have had some useful practice. It is a similar course to last week, a lot of long holes and plenty of water, and fairway bunkers which makes it tough for driving.
I arrived here on Sunday night straight from New Orleans. I took it very easy on Monday, went to the course after lunch and did some practice on my short game and routines as these are the things that I will rely on most next week. In general when I am playing under pressure my routines are very good but in the early part of the season they can be a bit shaky. I find myself getting distracted easily and losing my focus so I spent a bit of time working on this. I played the course on Tuesday and then again in the pro-am on Wednesday, as I have been here a couple of times I know the course relatively well, I am happier playing rather than spending time on the practice ground. The more time that I spend on the practice ground the more chance there is of me getting sucked into doing some technical practice and this is the last thing that I need at the moment.
This is another very long course, it measures 7,457 yards; last year the course played quite firm and so it didn’t feel as long but this year there has been quite a bit of rain here and so the course is wet and playing closer to its full length. Since it moved to the week before the Masters, the course has been set up with very little rough and they have tried to firm up the greens and get them as fast as they possible can. The greens aren’t that firm this year but they are in great condition. The fact that the course is a little soft means that the fairways feel a little wider as the ball is not running that much.
The signature hole of the course is the 18th, it measures 486 yards and plays as a par four. There is water all down the left, from the tee to the green, and a big fairway bunker on the right. It is a daunting tee shot as you need to be on the fairway to give yourself the best chance of making a par. Even after a good drive it is not easy as the water looms for the second shot as well; add a tricky green to this and you have one of the toughest finishing holes in golf. Four pars here would be great.
Even though it is a long course there are plenty of birdie chances on the par fives and there are good chances on a couple of par fours like the 10th and 12th that play as drive and wedge holes, so give you the opportunity to make up some shots. The key to this course is to accept that there are holes that a par is a good score on and then try and make your score on the holes that give you a chance to get a wedge in your hand.
I am here again preparing for next week but I know that my best chance of winning next week is by giving myself a chance to win this week. By getting into contention and trying to win here will only help me for next week. However it is not possible to win on any other day bar the final day, so my hope is to get myself into contention on Sunday afternoon again, and if I do then it will have been a good week and great preparation for next week.
I finished in a tie for 26th this week which was a reasonable performance, but my weekend was better in terms of scoring than the first two days. I was here to play as well as I could and try and get myself into contention to win so as to get ready for the Masters but I never quite got there. Even though I didn’t make any impact on the tournament I got a lot out of the week. It was probably the best of the last few events that I have played in terms of preparation for the Masters. I used the clubs that I will use next week so as to make sure that everything is in working order and made a point of not doing too much during the week so as to be as rested as I can be for next week.
It is very hard playing a tournament the week before a Major as everyone is thinking about the next week, I like playing as a build up but my mind is still focused on being ready for the following week. No matter how much you try to put the following week out of your mind it keeps coming back. The journalists want to ask you questions about it and everyone is wishing you well. It does take away from this week a bit but by playing I am getting the best preparation that I can get. This week was no different; I was certainly distracted during the week because of next week but more in my practice rather than the tournament rounds. When I am playing the tournament rounds I find it easier as I am concentrating on doing the best that I can do on that day, but it is before and after it that I tend to get distracted as I do my practice thinking about the following week as opposed to what this weeks event needs. So while I find it very helpful to play the week before a major in terms of getting me in the best shape it doesn’t tend to mean that I perform too well in the tournament, which was pretty much the case this week.
I ended up shooting five under which left me in a share of 26th place which was an average enough finish. I was never really in the tournament. A good last round moved me up nicely but I was never threatening the leaders. I came here off a good week in New Orleans but just never got it going here. Rounds of 71, 73, 71 and 68 left me well out of contention. In my first round I hit it into four hazards; three times I had to take penalty drops and once I was able to play it. I think during the course of the week I hit it in over seven hazards; probably the most annoying was my last hole on Friday. I was one under par playing the last and the hooter had gone for bad light but I had the option of playing the hole or coming back in the morning. I chose to play it, but as it turned out it wasn’t a great decision; I hit a good drive and was left with a three wood which I pulled in the water left. This meant that I had to get it up and down to make the cut, gladly the ball had gone near the green so it meant I had a short chip but a tricky one as I was well below the level of the green. I hit one of my better chip shots of the week and left myself a one foot putt to make the cut. I would have been very annoyed with myself if I had taken a double bogey to miss the cut, as the extra two competitive rounds made all the difference.
How I finished here this week is somewhat irrelevant. Even though I finished worse than in New Orleans I would consider this a better week than last as I got more out of the event. I realized this week that I have been trying too hard on the course and as a result I was getting a bit hard on myself. I get a bit like this a couple of times a year but usually once I notice it I can get it sorted out pretty quickly. Having realized this over the weekend means that I will get myself back to enjoying my golf by Thursday of next week. Luckily for me I am playing at Augusta next week, a place where I really enjoy playing and a tournament that I look forward to every year so it shouldn’t be hard. I will be in Augusta on Monday morning raring to go.
I was happy with most areas of my game during the week. My wedge play could have been a little better but it did improve over the weekend so I am not too worried. I have three days to finalise my preparation and then we are off. The buzz of the first major of the year has gripped me now and I am thoroughly looking forward to it.
Talk to you all next week from Augusta!...