Life is a lot easier when you play badly and then all of a sudden you get in contention and win one. No one gets on your back. When you finish runner-up seven times, everyone is asking, 'Why aren't you winning?' It's much more fun when you jump into a win out of the blue. It's a much tougher game when you play consistently well.

NEC Invitational

Entry Date:
Aug 22, 2004

Back at Firestone
I’ve stayed on in America after the USPGA Championship because this week it’s the NEC Invitational at Firestone in Ohio. This is the second of the four World Golf Championship (WGC) events we play each year – and they are cracking tournaments.
They were introduced to the schedule five or six seasons ago and are a fantastic addition. Along with the Majors, these tournaments allow the best players from all over the world to compete against each other. This week is no different with Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson all here as well as a very strong contingent from Europe.

Great stages
As well as top-class fields, the WGC events are played at some terrific venues. For instance, I’m glad to see the WGC-American Express Championship will be back at Mount Juliet in Ireland in just over a month’s time. Certainly, after the Majors, the individual WGC events – in the WGC World Cup you play with a partner, representing your country – are some of the most important tournaments we have each season. No surprises, then, when I tell you that I’m really keen to do well over the next few days.

NEC record
This will be my sixth, straight NEC Invitational, but as yet I’ve not really managed to get myself in contention on the final day. All bar one of my NECs have been at Firestone – the exception was 2002 when the event was staged at Sahalee Golf Club, near Seattle.
Strangely enough, my best performance in the tournament was on my debut here in 1999 when I finished in 12th place. Since then, I’ve fared only reasonably, finishing 27th, 17th, 47th and 39th.

The course
The South course at Firestone has long been regarded as a really good challenge. At over 7,200 yards long it is not short for a par-70. There are plenty of testing par-4s such as the 6th and 9th which both play around 470 yards long. The 14th – also around 470 yards – is another par-4 that requires a long, straight drive.
Your iron play needs to be in A1 shape if you are to give yourself a chance of scoring well.
If you’ve ever watched the tournament in the past, then you’ll have seen the monster par-5 that is the 16th. It’s 667 yards long and must be one of the longest holes in Tour golf. It’s not just length that protects the course from low scores. The rough can be fairly punishing, so you need to keep it straight as well as being able to hit it long off the tee.
I’m out late for the first round, teeing off at 3.15 local time alongside Brett Rumford. Here’s hoping it’s a good week…

It’s a fact
When you finish 74th out of 76 starters on a total of 17-under-par, you’re never going to be happy with the performance. Clearly, things didn’t go as I’d hoped they would in the World Golf Championship -NEC Invitational, but it’s no use getting too down on myself. Believe it or not, I don’t think my game is that far away from where I want it to be. My ball-striking wasn’t that bad. However, I’ve obviously got some things to address in the few days I have before the BMW International Open, which gets underway on Thursday in Munich.

Stats story
At each event on both the European Tour and PGA Tour a record is kept of our stats. Every drive, every iron, every putt is chronicled, giving a most detailed breakdown of our respective performances. Obviously, they don’t tell the exact story of what’s happened in a tournament, but they certainly give a good indication as to how you’ve played.
Looking back at the performance data from the NEC, it is apparent that I wasn’t at my best on the greens. There are two stats that apply to our putting – the actual number of putts an individual takes in a round, plus the average number of putts one takes for greens hit in regulation.
Neither of the categories from Akron make great reading for me. Only in the third round did I manage less than 30 putts. You can’t afford that at the highest level.
Similarly, in three of the four rounds I averaged over two putts per green hit in regulation. That’s not good enough in a Tour event.
I’m not saying I would have been in contention had I made my fair share of putts, but I certainly wouldn’t have finished so low down on the final standings.
Firestone is such a hard golf course and it was even tougher than ever last week with the storms ensuring it played longer than ever. It’s important that your iron-play is close to its peak there, but I was missing more greens than I should have. 

Off on the wrong foot
The tournament didn’t begin well for me as I double bogeyed my first hole and from that point on I never got back to level par. The first two days were affected by storms that wreaked havoc on the playing schedule. Most of the field didn’t complete their round on the first day and it was the same story on Friday.
Players don’t like weather delays, but in fairness, they are the same for everybody. That said, the conditions were not made any easier by the rain and the course was playing pretty long.
After scores of 77 and 74, I certainly knew I wasn’t going to be involved at the business end of the tournament. I stuck in there in the third round when my putting was better than it had been the two previous rounds. But a third round level par 70 was to be as good as it got. I didn’t play great on the final day, making too many bogies. They blew my chance of a decent score and I ended up with a 76.

Anyhow, it’s a different tournament this week where I hope I’ll find some improvement. I’ll let you have a few thoughts before the first round gets underway.