Padraig's Tour Diary - WGC - Bridestone Invitational
Coming to the Bridgestone I was hopeful that I had turned the corner and I was looking forward to playing again. In the two weeks off after The Open I felt that I cleared up a lot of things in my head with regard to my swing. To come out here and start the way I did was still a bit of a surprise; not just because I hadn’t done much so far this year but also because I have never really performed that well in Akron. This year I came into the tournament with no expectation in terms of my performance, I came here to get myself back into playing golf and to forget about swing thoughts. I knew coming out that the best way for me to play well was to get into working on my mental game and in particular my routines. If you had asked me at the start of the week I would have said that I might struggle with it in Akron but that by the Thursday of the PGA I would be in good shape. Thankfully I got it wrong.
I got off to a flier of a start by birdying my first hole; I played solid golf for the day and made five more birdies over the next seventeen holes to shot six under par. I think this is probably my lowest round ever on this course. It was a combination of good solid play and good putting that helped me shoot six under. I made six birdies and dropped no shots all day, I think it was my first bogey free round of the year. As you would expect when I finished there was a lot of interested reporters around; they all wanted to know if my “new” swing was finally working and was this the start of my year? No matter how much I pointed out that this was actually just one round and that we couldn’t read into it yet it didn’t matter to them. It was nice to be back in the media centre talking about a good score and what I did right for change though.
I didn’t play quite so well in my second round but I still manage to shoot one under par and to maintain the lead. I finished the day on seven under par which put me one shot ahead of Tim Clarke; it meant that I would be playing in the last group on Saturday for the first time all year. I was delighted to be back in contention again for a tournament; I had definitely missed the buzz of being in the mix on the weekend. I was happy with this I was equally happy with the way I had played for the two days and also with my short game. I had spent a lot of time working on my short game over the last two weeks and it was paying off.
On Monday I hurt my neck a little and as a result I wasn’t able to do much practice all week. I was conscious of the fact that I was here to play for two weeks and I didn’t want to do anything to risk not being able to defend my PGA Championship. Seeing as I wasn’t doing much practice I spent the little bit of time on the range purely working on my routines and short game. The more I practiced the better it felt on the course and more confident I felt over the ball.
Saturday was a miserable day in terms of weather, miserable for here not to bad for home, it was raining for most of the day but still very warm. I struggled a little on the front nine but managed to keep myself together by getting up and down and hitting some good recovery shots from the trees on a couple of holes. My back nine was much better, I gave myself plenty of chances and holed a few putts; through 15 holes I was ten under and really buzzing along and looking to put as much ground between me and the field as possible. I wasn’t able to make up anymore ground as I made a bogey on the 16th and a birdie on the 17th. This left me on nine under and three ahead of Tiger, I only realized that it was Tiger in second place when I finished and looked up at the leaderboard.
The final group for any tournament on a Sunday is the place you want to be but you especially want to be there taking on Tiger. It had been a while for me since I was in the last group on a Sunday but I knew that all I had to do was to concentrate on my own game and not to worry about anything else. I parred the first hole which was fine; it was a tricky pin and would have been easy to drop a shot by going at the pin. The second hole I had to chip and put for a par after I caught the fairway bunker from the tee and then spun my pitch off the green. Tiger started his run here by making an eagle to make up two shots; over the next seven holes I made all pars and Tiger made three more birdies to go to twelve under. I made my first and only birdie on the 11th hole after I hit a little nine iron to eight feet. It wasn’t until the 13th that Tiger made a mistake, he got lucky from the tee by hitting a tree and coming out onto the fairway but then his second went through the green and he ended up making a bogey. We both hit bad drives on the 14th and both missed the green with our second shots. I managed to hole from 13 feet for par and Tiger ended up making a 5 footer for bogey. This put me one in front; we both parred the 15th to remain as we were.
It was here that all the drama happened. Both of us missed the fairway on the 16th, me right and Tiger left. I didn’t mind too much as it is not really a green that you go for in two. As we walked off the tee we were put on the clock as we had lost a bit of ground. I definitely rushed my next few shots as a result of trying to speed up; it wasn’t anyone’s fault bar my own as I shouldn’t have rushed. I rushed my second and pulled it leaving myself with a very tricky shot from the edge of the bunker. Tiger played first and hit a great shot stone dead; my third flew out of the rough a bit and went through the green. It left me a tricky chip shot from a down slope. Again I rushed a little and caught it thin, it landed on the green and ran into the water and my tournament was effectively over. I dropped the other side of the water and took three more to get down and ended up with an eight. I was really annoyed with myself as I knew that I had rushed my shots once we were put on the clock. It is something that I do at times and it has cost at other times too but this was definitely the most painful. It was such a disappointing way to finish as we were having a great battle. In the end I did well to par the lat two holes as I was totally out of it after the 16th.
I finished on eight under and a share of second place, four behind Tiger. It wasn’t the finish I was looking for and I was really disappointed. All in all it was a good week that was marred by one hole; if only I could hit one shot again! I am happy with how most things went for the week; I hit the ball well, putted very well and most importantly I went through my routines very well. If it wasn’t for the 16th hole I would have left Akron very happy.
It was great to be involved in a tournament again; I have definitely missed the buzz of being in contention. As much as I am disappointed with how things finished up this week I am also very happy as I know after seeing how I played the final round that I am ready to defend my title next week in Hazletine. It was great preparation.