After a week off, during which I did a bit of celebrating, I am back to work. Last week wasn’t quite as mad as last year, probably because it wasn’t my first major, but also because I had learned from last year and I just didn’t get caught up in doing anywhere near as much as I did in 2007. I was very conscious that I am still in the middle of my season and that there are a lot of tournaments to be played. When the season is over I will sit back and enjoy my win more but for now I am concentrating on the remainder of my season.
This week is the Bridgestone Invitational in Firestone; it is one of the World Golf Championship Events. I have been coming here for close to ten years now, it is a great golf course and a big event. The best thing about this week for me is that there is no cut which means that I will have four rounds under my belt before next week’s PGA. I know this sounds a little negative but coming in off a week off and a big win the week before, means that I am not fully ready to play again. As usual when I am off I spent quite a bit of time practicing which means that it will take me a few rounds to get back into scoring mode. I have also had to do a lot of media this week; I have probably done thirty interviews since I have arrived. This takes up a lot of time and also energy but by doing them this week it means that I have nothing to do next week but concentrate on golf and getting to know the course.
This week’s tournament is an event that I have never really performed well in over the years. It is a great golf course and one that I like but for some reason I have struggled here in the past. I think some of the reason is due to the scheduling of the event. Historically it came after the PGA and I would have taken a two week break before the PGA and so I would have been quite rusty. Last and this year it is the week before the PGA and so I am coming in from a week off and trying to get myself ready for the last major of the year. I feel that it is a course that I could do well on if I could get the tournament to be my third week. Another reason that I have probably struggled in my early years here was the fact that it was set up like a US Open course with heavy rough. Normally when you miss a fairway here you are chipping out as it is just not possible to go for the green. This year it will be different as the rough have been cut down so that it is possible to make the green or at least near.
I arrived here in Akron on Sunday evening but when I landed in Chicago and collected our bags my suitcase hadn’t arrived. I was just on my way to the counter to see what had happened to it when I realized that I hadn’t actually brought from my house; I had left it in my bedroom! I had totally forgotten and just headed off without it, so had to get it shipped over in the end. I traveled early so as to give myself more time to get all the media work done and give myself a chance to get back into playing mode. I have played 36 holes over the three practice days and done some testing with Wilson; they have a new driver for me. I really like the new driver and will be trying it out this week to see how it reacts in a tournament; I have to use it in a tournament before I know whether I am really happy with it. I haven’t spent much time on the range this week as there have been so many other distractions, but the time I have spent there has been trying to get back into my routines and working on my focus.
The course is set up a little different this year than normal; the rough is much lower than previous years, so now it is possible to get to the green, whereas before you had to pitch out. The greens were much quicker than normal in practice. I think because the rough is lower they have decided to get the greens quicker and firmer, however there has been a couple of thunder storms and so the greens aren’t as firm as they would like and it definitely slowed them up by Wednesday. There have been no changes to the course this year; it is still a par 70 that measures over 7,300 yards. It is a tough course and one that par is a good score on. There are so many holes where you are happy to make pars on.
There are only two par 5’s on this course, the 2nd and the 16th. The 2nd measures 526 yards and is within range in 2 shots. It plays 14 yards uphill but is still a good birdie chance. The other par 5, the 16th, measures 667 yards but play nearly 25 yards downhill from the tee to the green. It is not quite on in two. If you get a good tee shot away you might be within range but it is not worth the risk as there is water in front of the green. The green is very small, even with a lob wedge in your hands this green looks small. This will be a key hole by the end of the week as it is not a bad thing to be able to say that you made four 5’s here but everybody will be wanting to make a birdie as you feel that you should birdie the par 5’s. This hole played as one of the toughest par 5 on the tour last year and as the toughest par 5 to hit with your third shot.
As far as this week is concerned I have limited expectations. I have been caught up in doing a lot of media here and so it has taken away from my normal preparation. I would like to be more prepared but there is nothing I can do about it now. The main thing is that by doing it all this week I will have very little to do next week. I will be working on my routines and focus for the week so as to get myself ready for next week. As ever I am trying to get myself into contention come Sunday afternoon; however I am not too hopeful. I am playing early Thursday and then late on Friday with Darren Clarke and Scott Verplank.
I knew coming to Akron that this would be a tough week for me; not only because I was coming into the event having won the Open but also because it is a course that I have struggled on. It turned out to be pretty much what I expected; I had three decent scores and one bad one. My first round was a good return considering how I played, as I could have shot anything. I traveled over with very little expectation for the week; the most important thing for me was that I wanted to get myself ready for the USPGA. My normal preparation for a major is to play the two weeks before so that I am fully prepared for the third week. However, with where the PGA is in the schedule it doesn’t work for me to play two tournaments before it as the Open is three weeks before it and so it would mean that I have to play six in a row.
Starting out on Thursday I knew that the week would be a struggle as mentally I was quite drained. I had done a lot of interviews on Wednesday. These, added to the way I was feeling after everything from the week before, really wore me out. I really struggled with my focus in the first round which showed up when you look at my stats for the round. I hit 43% of fairways and 67% of the greens; I made six birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey to end up shooting one under par for the round. It was a great "one under" as I really struggled from the tee and this is one course where it is very important that you are coming off the fairway if you are to contend. It did help that they have cut down the rough this year, so I was at least able to get the ball around the green, whereas if I had hit the ball off the tee last year like I did this year I could have shot a very high score. I was delighted to have shot one under as I felt like I shot much more but I managed to hole a few putts and make some birdies. I wasn’t disappointed with how I played as I kind of knew that I was going to struggle.
On Friday I played pretty much the same as I did on Thursday but this time I got the true reward for my play and ended up shooting five over par. This time I hit 57% of the fairways and 50% of the greens, however I wasn’t able to save myself as well as I did on Thursday. Seven bogeys and only two birdies meant that I was four over for the tournament. It was the same as Thursday, nothing to do with my game or swing, all mental and much to do with tiredness. It left me well down the field and having to get up early on Saturday for my third round.
My play over the weekend was very similar to the first two days, but the difference was that I hit more good shots when I got the mental approach right. As a result I shot 68 and 67 over the weekend, which moved me from being tied somewhere in the 50’s to finishing in a tie for twentieth. I also tried out the new Wilson driver over the weekend as I wanted to play it in tournament conditions before the PGA. I have been testing them for a while now and they have been consistently coming out longer than my current Wilson driver, but I haven’t been able to get a shaft matched up with it yet. Most of the shafts that I have used in it have tended to hit it left. For the one that I used this weekend I had it tipped extra stiff so that it would be hard to hit left. I was very happy with how the ball came off the clubhead, it was definitely longer than my current one and it certainly didn’t go left. However when I wanted to hit a draw I wasn’t really able to turn it over. If I was fully committed to the shot then I ended up hitting it way right which I did a few times during the two rounds. It will definitely make it into my bag in the next few weeks but not for the PGA - I have to work with the guys to get the shaft properly matched up, so once I can do that then it will be in for good.
After all my poor play I ended up shooting one under par for the week which was quite an achievement considering where I hit it. A friend of mine rang me after the tournament to tell me that I was third in driving distance for the week. I was delighted to hear it but I had to explain that while I did get some help from the cart paths! A few of my wayward drives hit the cart paths and jumped forward, a good example of this was the second hole on Friday; I pulled my drive a little and it caught the cart path and bounced back onto the fairway probably 100 yards beyond where my partners tee shots were.
All in all it was a good week for me; I got a lot of media work done so that I won’t have to do it next week. I got to play four competitive rounds before the USPGA to brush away the cobwebs from my practice last week and I know what I have to work on for the next few days before I start on Thursday. As ever it will all be mental work for me during the practice days as I am very happy with how I am swinging it. It was tough going this week as I was very tired and mentally weak but I am certainly glad that I played.
Talk to you all next week at Oakland Hills for the last major of the year!