After a three week break from tournament golf I am back in action at The Players Championship in Jacksonville Florida. While I wasn’t playing tournaments I had a number of engagements and corporate outings to do so it didn’t really feel like a full break. However I did manage to get in some rest and also made it to Colin Montgomerie’s wedding, which was a great couple of days. As ever in my break I did quite a bit of practice, and this time I actually played a bit as well. I played a few games in Luttrelstown Castle Golf and Country Club, which was lovely as the course was in great condition. Normally I don’t play, so when I come out after a break I am very rusty as I have done too much practice and haven’t actually played any golf.
I arrived here on Sunday afternoon to give myself an extra day to acclimatize. I have forty-one holes in practice this week and have spent a bit of time working on my chipping. On Monday I played eighteen holes with Lee Westwood, it was great to get out and play on Monday morning as there were very few around, we were able to spend a bit of time looking around and getting a good look a the course. They changed the set up of the course last year, it is now fully settled, and because we saw it last year, it feels slightly less unusual to see the course with different grass on the greens and less rough. However it is hard to forget the way the greens used to break and how quick they used to be, they aren’t quite a quick now but they are much firmer.
I had breakfast on Monday morning with Bob Rotella and spent a bit of time working with him on my mental game. We discussed a number of areas which were troubling me and managed to get to the bottom of most of them, we also worked on the range which really helped. As I haven’t played a tournament since the Masters I am a bit rusty but not as much as I would be if I hadn’t played a few games last week.
Tuesday I spent most of the day on the range working with Bob and trying out a few new drivers. Wilson have built a new driver for me, I was testing it on a launch monitor to see how it compared with my own one. The new one was much quicker which meant that it was longer but the problem is that it hasn’t been approved by the USGA yet so I can’t use it this week. I have them working on it so as to get it to me as soon as possible as I really liked it and it was definitely longer. After I finished testing I played a few holes but it was very slow and I had to do some filming for a Wilson advert so I came in after five holes.
On Wednesday morning I spent some more time with Bob working on the same things, as I always say it is not rocket science but it is good stuff. If I can get myself to commit to the things we work on I do tend to perform better. After working with Bob I played eighteen holes, the front nine on my own and the back nine with Vaughan Taylor. I miss the fact that there is no pro-am this week as it helps to get you scoring and holing putts. I tried to make myself hole out so as to get used to having to hole putts but it is never the same.
Last year was the first year of the changes here at the TPC; it has gone from heavy rough to lighter rough but a harder and faster course. The change of date has made a big difference as well as the weather tends to be much better in May than in March. This year the course is in the best shape I have ever seen it. The fairways are brilliant and the greens are perfect. They are much firmer than normal which makes it very tough; the greens won’t get as fast as in previous years as the grass has been changed. I much prefer the way the course is set up now as I think it puts more emphasis on your iron play and short game. It will be hard to get the ball close on some greens as they are very firm, there is a premium also on hitting the fairway this week as to get it close you have to come off the fairway. Coming out of the rough makes it very hard to hold the green.
The holes that will have a huge say in the outcome of the week are the holes that everyone knows; the 16th, 17th and 18th.
The 16th is a 527 yards par 5; it doglegs right to left and has water from half way down and all around the green. It is easily reachable in two. It is not about length off the tee here as the second shot can be treacherous as the green gets very firm and the pins are nearly always close to the water. To be able to get to the green you have to hit the fairway and even if you do it is a tough second shot, the biggest problem on this hole is the lay up if you can’t reach the green as there is a tree over hanging which makes the pitch very difficult. It is a hole that you feel you should birdie but in trying to force a birdie you can easily have a disaster.
The 17th is one of the most famous holes in golf. It is a short par 3, at only 140 yards, but it one of the most terrifying golf holes you can play. It is an island green and the wind swirls around the tee and the green. I always try to play a ¾ shot to this hole as it helps in controlling the distance and also in eliminating the wind effect. You are never happy on this hole until you see your ball on dry land. Four pars is a great return on this hole!
The 18th is 464 yards with water all up the left. The extra length on this hole makes the drive easier as you don’t try and cut any of the corner, it is the second shot that is harder. Anything missing the green left is in the water and anything missing it right is a near impossible up and down. You really feel that you have to hit a good shot in here; it puts you under a lot of pressure! Anyone that plays this hole in level par will make up shots on the field.
I am happy with how things have gone so far this week. I would like to have a tournament under my belt but I needed the time off and no matter what event I came out to first I would feel the same. I am looking forward to getting back into a tournament, that is the good thing about a break you look forward to getting playing again. I am a little unsure as to what to expect after three weeks off but as ever I am looking to get myself into a good position come Sunday afternoon and see how I get on from there. The other thing that this tournament is famous for is the caddy shot on the 17th every Wednesday; this year it was won with 1 foot five inches and it wasn’t Ronan!! He had a shank into the water!! It means that I can give him a hard time about it for the next year!
I went to The Players Championship after three weeks off but I wasn’t as worried about it as I normally am; I had played a bit of golf in my time off so I was happy with where my game was. To miss the cut was very disappointing as it is a tournament that I have performed well in over the years and a course that I like. The most disappointing thing about missing the cut was the fact that I was actually in the tournament after twenty-six holes; I was never thinking about the cut, actually I was thinking about getting myself into contention. I knew the scoring wouldn’t be great for the week as the course was playing very tough in practice, so when I got myself to two under par I knew that I was right in there. The run I had was probably the worst I have ever had in my whole career, nothing I seemed to do went for me. I just couldn’t stop myself from making bogeys; I hit a lot of good shots and got some bad luck and then missed a couple of makeable putts.
I played early in the first round which I was happy about; if I was asked which draw I would prefer it would definitely be early and then late. The funny thing about this is that in my early years as a pro I would always have been hoping for a late start on Thursday and then an early start on Friday. I prefer to get out early on a Thursday now and try and make the most of the good condition of the course. This week I didn’t quite make the most of my early start; I shot level par which was a reasonable score infact I thought it was better than it actually was. I got off to a good start by chipping in on the first hole for a birdie and then making another birdie on the second hole; it was the perfect start. I was originally drawn to play with Woody Austin and Trevor Immelman, I was looking forward to seeing Trevor as I hadn’t seen him since he won the Masters but unfortunately he had to withdraw due to illness. Luckily for us he withdrew early enough so that we got the first reserve, Dustin Johnson. I gave back the shots I picked up on the first two holes with a three putt bogey on the 4th and another bogey on the 7th. A good five iron to the 8th left me with a four footer for another birdie but unfortunately another three putt on the 10th put me back to level par. I held on at level par until the 17th where another three putt put me on one over; if I had finished on one over I would have been very annoyed. I just missed the green on the last but was able to putt it and thankfully I holed for my last birdie and a level par round. I wasn’t too disappointed with level par as I knew the scoring wouldn’t be great for the week, I was six behind after one round but still well in the tournament.
In the second round I started on the back nine; it was a tough day from early on as the wind was blowing hard. I started well making a solid par on the 10th and then an easy birdie on the 11th; I made a few good up and downs over the next four holes to stay at one under. A birdie on the 16th got me to two under; I was flying along and moving up the leader board. On the 17th I hit a nine iron to the front of the green and then three putted; another three putt on the 18th left me on level par. I was annoyed with myself for three putting the two greens but I knew I wasn’t out of it. However the run I went on over the next nine holes was the worst I have ever had. I made seven bogeys, one birdie and one par on my back nine; I didn’t even play badly. I got a few bad breaks and missed a few putts; I couldn’t believe the way things were going. I was trying hard and never gave up but I just couldn’t stop the rot. It was awful and there was nothing I could do.
I never at any stage contemplated missing the cut so to miss was extremely disappointing. It is never nice to be sitting at home watching a tournament that you were playing in and this was no different. It was an exciting finish to the tournament but it was a disappointing week me. I am back home to defend my Irish Open crown, it is a defence that I am really looking forward to as it is the first time I have played a tournament in Ireland since I won the Open last year. Hope to see you all at Adare, your support is always most welcome!