DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 10: Padraig Harrington of Ireland tee's off at the 2nd during the first round of the Volvo Champions at Durban Country Club on January 10, 2013 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Its only when you get back to competing and playing in a tournament that you realise how much the competitive nature of it means to you. No matter how many balls I hit on the range it isn't close to playing a tournament. After six weeks away it was really good to get back at it and to see where my game was after all my practice.
I knew going to South Africa that I was likely to be a bit rusty and I was. In practice it was hard to get my head around playing and not working on my game. By the time I got started on Thursday I was a lot better but still a long way from what I know I will be like in a few weeks time. The great thing about playing the Volvo Golf Champions as my first event is that there was no cut and so it eases you into playing.
I was definitely rusty and my timing was out as a result of all the practice I did over the six weeks and so I played rather poorly from tee to green. I struggled with a pull and big cut all week - any solid shots I hit tended to be pulls and then to protect against it I would come out of my shots and hit a cut. In the wind that we had for the week it was a struggle to commit to my shots as I was never quite sure what to expect. On top of this the course had a lot of trouble on both sides of the fairways if you were quite wide. I figured out after the first couple of rounds what was wrong but it was hard to correct it as it was mainly a timing issue. I spent Friday and Saturday evening on the range working on it, made some improvement but not enough for me to be confident going out. In the end I just went with what I had and tried to commit to that. I hit a lot of poor shots and had to hit several provisional balls during the week but in general I managed myself around the course.
You are probably wondering how I could finish fourth considering how I hit the ball and the answer is that I putted very well. I used a new routine with my putting this week and I really liked it. I took my practice strokes behind the ball and then walked in and hit the putt. It felt good and I felt like I lined up much better. All week I ran the ball at the hole and I would say that I only had two or three putts in the week that didn't really have a chance of going in. The way I played actually reminded me of when I went there in 1996 for my first event, when I struggled from tee to green but putted exceptionally well.
All in all I am very happy with my tournament as it has been a while since I played poorly and performed well. A week like this gives you confidence in your short game. I made some good up-and-downs coming in and none more so than on the last from a tight lie for birdie to finish in 4th place on my own, which earned me enough world ranking points to get myself back into the top-50 in the world.
I am heading to Abu Dhabi for the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship. I am excited about the week ahead as I know that I can play a lot better from tee to green and I am looking forward to giving my new putting routine another test. The other great thing about Abu Dhabi is that I will get to see Pete Cowen for the first time in six weeks. No doubt he will be able to pin-point what was wrong last week and have me ready for Thursday morning.
After six weeks off I am back in action this week at the Volvo Golf Champions in South Africa. I had a great break, really enjoyed being at home and not travelling. As always I did a lot of practice and as every year I would like to have another week to get myself game ready, but then if I had another week I would only be saying the same thing again in a weeks time. When I finished up in Dubai six weeks ago, my next tournament seemed a long way off but now it only seems the other day that I finished. That said, I am really looking forward to this week and the whole season. Its always tough to be packing to head off, but after a nice long break there is a lot of excitement about the season ahead.
My first tournament this year is at the same venue that I played my first tournament as a European Tour member, Durban Country Club. I remember coming here back in 1996 as a fresh faced rookie. I got a late call up to play and travelled from another African country where I was due to play a Challenge Tour event. I remember it like it was yesterday. I played terrible and was using clubs that were four degrees too upright for me. At the end of the week I finished in 46th position and won just over £1,400. I couldn't believe it. It was the most I had ever won at that stage and I had played horrific. From that week on I just kept going and never looked back. I came away thinking that I had played terrible and still won money, which put me at ease straight away; whereas I could so easily have turned up at an event, played well, missed the cut and left thinking that I wasn't good enough to be a professional. This is my first time back here since then and when I played the course in practice I could see exactly why I did what I did back then. It is a course that suits a good chipper of the ball and also someone that hits it low as there are a lot of elevated tees and it gets very windy.
I got here on Sunday evening so as to give myself three days to see the course and get used to tournament golf again. After all my practice I am definitely quite rusty - it is hard to get out of practice mode and back into scoring mode. To help get myself ready I have played some games with myself on the course, ones that help you make birdies. However no matter what I do in practice I know that there is nothing like a tournament round to see where your game is at. In practice it feels rusty and that there is very little "go" in my swing, but that is always the case in the first few days. I have played 36 holes in practice over the three days, although I have been conscious not to over do things as it is extremely hot here - it would be very easy to wear yourself out before the tournament starts. My practice has been as I would have expected and I am happy in that it has been improving everyday.
The great thing about this week is that there is no cut, which removes the anxiety of having to play well the first two days. I am here looking to win the tournament but I am also realistic enough to know that anything could happen. So to have the knowledge that I am getting four rounds no matter what, is a nice safety net. It means that I will get a good indication of what I need to work on over the next few weeks.
I am really looking forward to this week and the year ahead. I struck the ball very well last year and fully believe that it will only get better this year. I have done a lot of work on my short game and feel that it is getting back to its best. At the moment I need to get out and play and get away from the range - it is playing practice that I need now. I am all set to get started and look forward to seeing how my game is. Even though I am apprehensive about how I will play this week, I am still here looking to win.