This week I’m at Wentworth for the HSBC World Match Play – home of the biggest first prize in golf. It’s my sixth successive week playing – that’s a lot of golf on the trot for me and keeping my concentration will be the key if I’m to have success here.
My game is okay, it's just a question of making sure the focus is there. Certainly the last couple of weeks I have been struggling with my focus. It's been coming and going on the golf course and obviously that's going to be very difficult to manage through 36 holes on a daily basis. It will probably come and go anyway in 36 holes. But I know that's what I have to be aware of and can take steps to guard against it.
When I’m at home for a short time in between tournaments I strive to get a balance between exercise and resting. Of course, I’ll be trying to relax and get as much sleep as I can. But I also like to get in the gym as well as that gets me going.
I’ll be looking forward to a break from competitive golf. I'm quite an intense person on the golf course, I try very hard and it takes a lot out of me. Some guys can play in a given week and it doesn't really take much out of them, but I tend to be quite intense about it – whatever the stature of an event – and do lots of practice. That's why it takes a lot out of me when I play and that's just my nature. I just have to not play as much, because the weeks I play, I tend to really give it my all and need a break afterwards.
This year is the first time that the field has been extended to 16 and so everybody will play on the first day whereas in the past the top four seeds have had a bye through to the quarter-finals. I’ve been drawn to play Chris Riley in the opening stage. I really don't know Chris that well although I obviously know of him on the Tour, and I'm actually quite looking forward to seeing his game tomorrow. I don't think we've ever played together before. So it will be interesting to watch him at close quarters.
Eyes on the prize
I did my pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday afternoon and one of the guys asked me what my top priority was for this week. Well, it’s got to be winning, hasn’t it!
This is a big event. I've come close in the past – losing to Ian Woosnam in the 2002 final – and winning here is something I would like to do. The prestige of a victory here would be good but, just as important, there are World Ranking points on offer.
There were a few raised eyebrows when I opted not to play in the Volvo PGA Championship back in May, but as it stands at the moment it’s on my schedule for 2005. Of course, everybody wants to know why I didn’t play in this year. It's purely because of my record. If you look at it, I can't make the cut here or I seem to struggle to make the cut every year.
Having said that, it's a totally different golf course at this time of the year – and it is match play. There’s the fact that you've only got one other guy to compete against (rather than 155 players in a strokeplay event), and he might find it as tough as you!
Thanks for catching up with my news and I’ll update my diary after the tournament.
Well, I won’t forget the 2004 HSBC World Match Play Championship in a hurry – that’s for sure. As you’re maybe aware, I shredded the back of my right thumb on a tree, playing an approach shot on the 27th hole in my quarter-final with Thomas Levet. It was extremely painful with the skin ripped away and bruising around and under the nail. But I’ll come to all that: first things first, I’ll start off with a few thoughts on my opening match against Chris Riley.
After the rain delayed the start of the championship by a couple of hours or so, it was always going to be unlikely that Chris and I would get our match finished on the first day – and so it proved. But it turned out to be a super match, a real tough battle that I eventually came through to win 2&1 early on Friday morning.
We managed to complete 32 holes on the Thursday with the match poised all square overnight. At no stage was there ever more than a couple of holes in it. I began quite well to move 2-up through 9 but by the 19th we were level again. Chris actually moved 1-up as a result of my bogey at the 24th before I got it back again and, as I said, when darkness forced us off for the day we couldn’t be split.
So, we returned for what was effectively a four-hole sprint. First blood was going to be everything with whoever struck first having a huge advantage. Fortunately for me I holed at the 15th from about 20 foot for par while Chris missed one from slightly inside me. Then he three-putted the 16th and I had two to close out the match from 12 feet at the 17th – which I did for a 2&1 win.
Keeping Levet at bay
The quarter-final saw me up against a fellow European Ryder Cup team-mate, Thomas Levet. I was 1-down at the 3rd before levelling the match at the next. After that I never trailed again in the game and I made a lot of birdies in the morning session to lead by five holes at the half-way point. My advantage increased by one at the 19th hole before Thomas fought back strongly, winning four on the trot from the 22nd.
But although he was coming back at me, I was comfortable with the way I was playing. I wasn’t missing greens or fairways until the 27th where I pulled my tee-shot left, close to the base of a tree. I wasn't even aware that I might be risking an injury as I thought I had loads of room on the follow-through. But as I came through at full speed I crushed the thumb and at the moment of impact felt surprise and pain. I just hadn’t imagined it happening but knew straight away I needed medical attention.
I wasn’t sure in that immediate period afterwards whether the thumb was actually broken or not. It soon became swollen and I had to ice it pretty quickly. But I couldn't ice it again on the golf course because I would have struggled for any feeling in the thumb after that. I could hardly grip the club. After I got through 12 and 13, I realised that I wasn't capable of really swinging the golf club – I certainly wasn't capable of hitting a full shot.
So I endeavoured from there just to get my way home, whichever way I could, hitting a little more club each time. I just hit largely pokes and prods, trying to get the ball somewhere near the green. I was trying to hit it somewhere near the green where I could get up-and-down. I knew if I did that, Thomas would have to make some birdies. It's never easy to make them on demand, so that was the key for me and I just managed to hold on for a 1-up win.
Not surprisingly, I struggled with my thumb in the semi-final with Ernie Els. In the morning I couldn't put my thumb on the club at all. First of all, I tried putting the thumb on the side of the grip, and I actually warmed up halfway through the bag with that. But when I got to the longer clubs, that wasn't working so well. But before I have practised with the thumb and forefinger off as a drill. So after I hit a few shots, I got reasonably comfortable with that.
The only thing is, you have to hit the ball easier and I was losing a bit of distance on my irons. Then when I hit one harder, I struggled with my distance selecting a club because I wasn't really sure how it was going to come out. I wasn't sure if I could hit it hard or easy, and that made it tough in the morning. Certainly a couple of errors were made there.
So, starting out, it was awkward, to say the least. It definitely got better, though, and after lunch I I tried a few shots with the thumb on the club and it wasn’t too bad. Awkward, but not too bad. Overall, I didn't hole enough putts, made a few too many mistakes and Ernie didn't seem to make any errors. He barely gave me an opportunity and in the end I lost out 5&4.
After six consecutive weeks of competitive golf I was going to have this week off anyway. I’ll keep you posted with my latest news right here next week.