I am back in action this week at The Celtic Manor Wales Open; I missed the BMW PGA Championship last week as it just didn’t fit into my schedule, it would have meant playing five tournaments in a row before the US Open. It is always tough watching any tournament on television when you are not involved and last week was no different.
I spent my week off doing a bit of practice on my long game and also spent some time with my putting coach working on a few things. I didn’t go mad on the practice during the week as I had an ear infection in the middle of the week and had to take it easy. I traveled over to Celtic Manor on Sunday evening so that I could get a practice round in on Monday.
The weather on Monday morning was horrendous, it was lashing rain and blowing a gail; I wanted to play a practice round as I have never seen the course before but luckily I had a few things that needed adjusting on my clubs which meant that I could spend the morning in the Wilson van. It took most of the morning to get my clubs sorted out; I was getting the lies adjusted and having the lofts checked and a few grips changed. After lunch the weather picked up enough for me to be able to play the course. It was just a quick run around as I was playing the pro-am on Wednesday. It was playing very long as it was still blowing and was wet.
The reason I was so keen to have a practice round on Monday was because I had a corporate outing for Wilson at Royal Birkdale on Tuesday. I did the same day last year at Carnoustie and found it very helpful in my preparation for the Open. When I arrived at Royal Birkdale I spent the first few hours doing some media work and then after lunch I played the course; the format was such that I played three holes with each group. I hadn’t been back to Birkdale since the last Open was held here so it was really worth while having the day here. Birkdale was in very good shape, they have added a few new tees since I was here last which make it play quite a bit longer. While I didn’t play it quite like a normal practice round it was very useful because it is now fresh in my mind and will mean that I can spend some time working on certain shots that are required around the course.
I got to play four holes in the pro-am before we were called in due to heavy rain and flooding. It was disappointing as I always like to play the pro-am to get me into a competitive frame of mind and in this case to get a better feel for the course as I had only played one practice round. It was called off after about an hour of being called in; once the rain cleared I headed to the putting green where I spent about three hours working on a few things that my putting coach Paul and I had spotted in my week off. By the end of the session I really felt that we had made very good progress and may even have solved a problem that I have had for a long time with my right to left putts. I definitely left the green feeling much better about my putting than I have for a long time.
As far as my preparation for this week’s event goes it has not been ideal as I have only got to play 22 holes in practice however I am feeling good about my game and even though I have only really played one round on the course I like what I have seen and feel that it will be a good test. I am probably at an advantage as a lot of the guys won’t have played the course at all as they would have been relying on the pro-am for the their practice round.
The course measures over 7,300 yards from the very back tees and in the wet conditions it is playing every yard of it. It is playing so long that the tour will probably have to move some of the tees forward. It is built in a valley and as a result it nearly always gets some wind blowing through it. They have played this course before but since it last held the tournament the owners have remodeled it; changing nine of the holes. There is plenty of water on the course which comes into play quite a bit especially around the greens. As the rough is wet there is a definite premium on hitting the fairways as it is practically impossible to hit the green from the rough. Two of the holes that I think will be interesting this week are the 15th and the 18th; these two will yield plenty of birdies and plenty of disasters.
The 15th is a par four and if played conventionally is a three wood and wedge hole; however it is possible to drive the green as it is only 261 yards to the front of the green. If you take on the green you have a hazard left of the green and you have to hit it over mature trees. On Monday I hit a three wood onto the green but I feel it won’t be so easy in the tournament.
The 18th is a par five that measures over 600 yards; luckily it plays all down hill. It will have to be very windy for this to be on in two this week. The tricky thing about this hole is the third shot as you are hitting your pitch to the green from a severe down slope and the green is elevated, which can make judging the distance very tough. The other problem is that there is a lake in front of the green and anything spinning off the green will spin back into the water. I can definitely see a lot of disasters here.
Overall I am happy with my game, the practice that I did on my putting may have solved a problem I have had for a while but I won’t know for a few weeks. I would like to have had another practice round but there is nothing I can do about that. As always I am looking to get myself into contention on Sunday afternoon and work from there.
My first trip to the Wales Open did not go as planned. I arrived here on Sunday evening looking forward to the tournament and in good form, but I missed the cut after shooting a two round total of two over par; which left me three shots outside the cut mark. Having missed the cut a lot of journalists have been asking me what is wrong with my game, the funny thing is that I am happy with how I am swinging the club and hitting the ball. If I was missing the cut because I was swinging it badly then it would be so much easier. The problem is that I am hitting it well and as a result I am getting a little hard on myself because I feel that I should be stiffing every shot.
I tend to have a period most years that is similar to this and invariably it is when I feel that I am playing well. I think that it is down to my level of expectation when I am feeling good about my game whereas when I feel that I am struggling with something I tend to perform better. Last week was very much along these lines. I felt that I was hitting the ball well coming into the event but unfortunately I missed the cut. When I look at the difference of when I am confident and when I am not it is amazing how my results vary. A lot of the time the more confident that I am about how I am striking it the worse my results are. When I feel that I am striking it poorly or doing something poorly then my focus gets better as I am trying not to let my weak area take over. However when I am confident and feel that I am striking it well I tend to feel that I can hit any shot so my focus is not at the same level.
Looking back on my two rounds in Wales I can see where I struggled with my focus and also on a couple of shots because I didn’t quite know the course well enough as we were rained off for the pro-am. When I think of some of the loose shots that I hit I can see that I hadn’t quite gone through my preparation beforehand which meant that I was still thinking about the shot when I was standing over the ball.
For the 36 holes that I played I could only make five birdies, this may be alright at the US Open but not on this course. It was playing soft and so it was easy to go at the pins and the fairways were holding. While I gave myself a few chances I didn’t quite pepper the pin; also I struggled with my putter again. I had done quite a bit of practise on my putting on Wednesday and I definitely feel that I made a great discovery with regards to my alignment but the problem with it was that it made me feel a little uncomfortable. Having missed the cut I travelled home on Saturday morning and spent the weekend working on my short game and in particular my putting. I know that in the coming couple of weeks that putting will be crucial. I made some good progress over the weekend but the main thing for me now is to get myself back into competitive mode.
Having missed two of my last three cuts people are asking me what is happening and it would be easy to sit down and come to the wrong conclusions by panicking. The difference is that I have been here before and I know that I am playing well and that I have to be patient and not get caught up in trying to find a problem. I head to Memphis on Monday for my last tournament before the US Open. I played there last year and missed the cut so hopefully I can improve on that this year.