Tour Championship debut
This week I’m in Atlanta – at East Lake Golf Club, to be exact – for my first ever appearance in THE TOUR Championship. This is the PGA Tour’s end-of-season finale for the top-30 players from the moneylist. Except there will be 31 players – the extra man being myself. The money I’ve earned in the US Tour events, the Majors and the World Golf Championship events is sufficient to put me in the top-30 in the moneylist if I was a full PGA Tour member – so I’ve been given the chance to tee it up at East Lake. Naturally, I’m delighted to be involved in such a prestigious and important event on the golf calendar.
Plans for next year
As you may have heard I am joining the PGA Tour as a full member for 2005. I won’t, though, be playing any less in Europe. If anything, physically I’m actually going to probably play more in Europe. But I do intend to put a couple or so extra American tournaments on to my schedule for 2005.
The majority of the events that I’ll play over there will be early in the season. More than likely, I’ll play one or two more PGA Tour events ahead of the Masters than I did last spring. At that time of the year the courses are ready and maybe the fields are a little bit stronger - a time when you need to be getting very competitive prior to Augusta.
Getting sharper, earlier
I'd like to win a US Tour event – that would be a goal. But there’s more to it than that. In 2003 and 2004 I felt that I hadn’t got into my stride by the time July had come around.
I thought that at the Masters this year I was not that sharp, and I definitely felt all the way through to the Open Championship I was not as sharp as I would have ideally liked. I could have had more tournaments under my belt. So, as I say, this looks more logical, playing a couple or so events earlier in the States to obtain a competitive edge.
The course this week is a par-70, measuring just under 7,000 yards. There are only two par-5s – the 9th and the 15th – and they’d be good birdie opportunities. But there are plenty of long and difficult par-4s that you’d be happy to grind out pars. In fact, every hole has got some sort of character to it.
It’s in tremendous shape with tight fairways, which will be difficult to hit if you’re not driving the ball well. Indeed, if you mis-hit a shot, this course will jump up and get you…just like Valderrama last week. Also, as at the Volvo Masters, I don’t think it will be a real low-scoring week unless the greens are soft because of rain. It’s the type of course where you need to play nice and solid. If you can do that, make a few putts, then you won’t be too far away on Sunday afternoon.
I’m out relatively early on, on the first day. I’m drawn alongside David Toms and our two-ball starts out at 11.25.
Tour Championship reflections
I never really got myself into contention during my first-ever Tour Championship, but I enjoyed the week and felt I played some good golf along the way. I ended up taking 14th spot with a level-par total of 280. It might well have been better had I not found the going tough on the back nine on Friday. I was struggling for consistency in windy conditions and my score of 75 – five-over – reflected that. Anyway, I’ll let you have some more details regarding how the tournament went for me from the start.
I was paired with David Toms for an 11.25 start for the opening round, which unfolded okay. East Lake is not a course where birdies are freely on offer and you really have to work for a decent score, taking whatever opportunities present themselves. By the turn in my first round, I was level par, but I’d slipped to a shot over by the 14th.
At the 15th, though, I had my best moment of the day – an eagle on the par-5. That gave me a real lift, going into the final three holes – all of which are tough. But I managed to grind out pars on each of them to finish with a one-under 69 that meant I was tied-sixth on Thursday evening.
Hopes hit by back-nine blues
Friday saw me out with Zach Johnson. We got underway at 12.37 and the round couldn’t have begun any better as I birdied the 1st to move to two-under. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to consolidate that position and by the time I was on the 4th tee I was back to level-par after two bogies.
The wind got up quite significantly during the afternoon and I just had a bad run of holes. I did make two’s on the two short holes on the home loop but I bogeyed 10, 13, 14 and 17 while having a ‘double’ at the par-4 16th. I hit less than half the fairways and my ‘greens in regulation’ stat was down on what it should have been. Plus a few too many putts stayed above ground. All in all, then, not a day to remember. The 75 I signed for saw me drop down into a share of 23rd position.
East Lake is such a good course and I was really eager to play well on it over the weekend – even though the prospects of creeping back onto the leaderboard weren’t in my favour. So I was quietly satisfied, then, that I managed to be more consistent on both Saturday and Sunday than I had been in the second round.
In the third round, I was able to keep errors to a minimum – a poor tee-shot led to a double bogey at the par-3 6th. But after that I was able to tot up four birdies on my way to signing for a 68. Okay, so I wasn’t going to be playing to win in the final round – I was 11 shots behind the joint-leaders through 54 holes – but I was at least heading in the right direction once again.
The greens were pretty quick on Sunday, but there was no wind to speak of out there and the course was not as testing as it had been earlier in the week. Even so, you need to have your A-game to score well at East Lake and I made a good start with three birdies through seven holes. The back nine was a bit more up-and-down, but for the second consecutive day I was under par, recording another 68. So, for three of the four days I shot in the 60s – it was just that Friday round that hurt me.
I’m having a week off now, but will be back next week for the World Cup in Seville. Until then…