And now for something completely different…
Three courses – links’ at that – a field of almost 170 pros, plus stars from the big screen, top-class rugby players, footballers and cricketers: yes, the dunhill links championship is certainly a break from the norm. But it’s an event that I really enjoy – after all, I managed to win it a couple of years ago!
The European Tour is on the east coast of Scotland this week for what is effectively a celebrity pro-am. We’ve been joined by the likes of Hugh Grant, Samuel L Jackson, Michael Douglas, Matthew Pinsent and Sir Steve Redgrave, Peter Schmeichel and Ian Botham. The list of celebrities seems endless in fact and I’ve got lucky in that I’ve been paired with Kevin Costner as my amateur partner.
I remember bumping into Hugh Grant in a lift in the hotel on a previous visit to this tournament and I admitted to the Press back then to feeling a little bit star-struck about it all! What, then, will I feel when I stand on the first tee alongside Kevin! Seriously, it’s going to be great to be able to spend some time with him – it will really interesting to chat with him on a number of different issues.
I’ve heard Kevin is a pretty tidy golfer and he showed he’s got a neat swing in the golf-based film Tin Cup.
There are actually two events within one at the dunhill. I play my own ball for the dunhill links title as per normal, but there is also a ‘team’ tournament where Kevin and I play betterball. AS a team we play a round over each of the three courses being used – St Andrews, the Old, Carnnoustie and Kingsbarns – before the top-60 teams play their final round on Sunday over the Old Course again. Sounds complicated? Actually, it’s fairly straightforward but for those playing it the first time it takes a little getting used to.
I’ll give you a few words about the three courses in order that I’m down to play them. On the first day, I’m drawn to play Kingsbarns, starting at 9.22. This is a comparatively new track just south of the town of St Andrews. It’s not that long at just under 7,100 and there are birdie opportunities, especially if the wind doesn’t blow too strongly.
There are plenty of bunkers that are in play off the tee, so it is imperative – if you want to make a good score – that you find the fairways. The greens are large and undulating – three-putt country if your putter is having a cold day.
I play St Andrews’ Old Course on Friday, starting out at 11.12 from the 10th tee. What can you say that hasn’t already been said about the most famous links – if not the most famous golf course – in the world? St Andrews is, of course, where golf began – hence it’s renowned as the Home Of Golf. There’s always a wonderful atmosphere playing the course and teeing up in front of the R&A clubhouse and finishing alongside it are always special moments. Again, the elements on the day will determine how tough a test we’re in for. As you probably know this par-72, 7,115-yard course has only two par-3s and two par-5s.
Carnoustie is likely to play the toughest of all the three courses – we’re there on Saturday for 10.39 tee-off. It can be a pretty fierce track when the wind blows up as the Open there in 1999 showed. It is, though, a marvellous links – a real players’ course which demands that you execute a well laid out plan if you want to beat par.
The strong finish is what most people will remember about Carnoustie with the Barry Burn the key feature through the closing three holes. First, you have the par-3 16th which at 245 yards is very long. Then there are two testing par-4s which require appropriate club selection and accuracy, especially with the approach shots, if you want to get best access to the pin.
Overall, the wind is a massive factor as the direction of play varies and you need all the shots to get it round in a low score. Avoiding the bunkers is key as well – they’re penal in the way that only links’ bunkers can be.
I’m looking forward to an exciting few days and I’ll let you know how the tournament went after the weekend.
I’ve had a fun few days at the Dunhill links in Scotland, even if they were not altogether successful. It was the fifth week on the trot that I’d played competitively and my game wasn’t at its sharpest. While some of my golf was good I wasn’t able to string enough birdies together and ended up missing the cut.
As I said, though, I still managed to enjoy aspects of the week – what with the event being a celebrity pro-am, there was a nice relaxed atmosphere to it all. And, of course, I had the pleasure of partnering the film star Kevin Costner, which was great.
We had a good time together over the three days we were paired. Sadly though – just as I’d done in the individual pro tournament – we came up a little short in the team event, missing Sunday’s final round.
The crunch moment
In a lot of events there seems to be one or two key moments that define the overall week. Mine probably happened on the first day when I was playing Kingsbarns. It had all gone fine for me on the front nine where I’d had an eagle on the short par-4 6th, plus a birdie at the 5th. That left me three-under without any dropped shots at the turn and I improved on that by two shots through the 16th – and then the problems started. I didn’t hit a great drive at the long par-4 17th – that led to a bogey.
Then at the final hole my tee-shot was poor again, forcing me to just chip the ball forward from a bank of rough up the right. At that point there was still a chance of making my par-4 at the hole, but I hit my approach into the ditch immediately in front of the green. Within a couple of blinks I was walking off with a treble bogey-7. Only half-an-hour earlier I was realistically looking at a score of 5-under and a place on the leaderboard. Almost next thing I know, I’m one-under and right back in the pack.
Off the pace
If Thursday provided me with a frustrating finish, Friday ended up as my worst scoring day on the Old Course at St Andrews. It began brightly enough with birdies at my opening hole – the 10th – and then another at the par-5 14th. But I had a bad run from the 16th, bogeying three holes on the trot. My putting was just not good enough; indeed, the stats showed that I took 34 for the overall round. On my back nine. I had one more bogey at the 4th and I went on to sign for a 74 that left me with a huge task just to make the cut.
My third round was better. I was playing Carnoustie and conditions were fairly kind, which was a bonus because it’s a really tough course when the wind gets up. Anyway, it was a bit of a rollercoaster round as far as my scoring went. I had a couple of relatively early birdies – only to slip back with a double bogey at the 8th. Then I had back-to-back birdies on 11 and 12 before throwing one away at the next. As it was, I kept on grinding and finished up with a 70. That left me one-under overall and never in with a chance of making the cut, which came at four-under.
Still, missing out on the final round gave me another day off before the HSBC World Match Play Championship, which starts on Thursday and has the richest first prize - £1million – in world golf. I’ll preview the event right here in a couple of days’ time.