And now for the World Cup!
I’m back from a week’s break and in Spain to play the WGC World Cup of Golf. It’s an event I’ve played in every year since winning it in 1997 with my good friend Paul McGinley. While some players have opted not to play for their country in the World Cup over the past couple of years, I’ve always enjoyed it, as has Paul…and we’ve managed to do fairly well. I’m hoping that once again we can perform to a high level this time around.
Paul and I
Even though we went to the same school and played football for the same club, Paul McGinley and I actually didn’t know each other until later down the line through golf. He was always senior to me in school, so I suppose that was the reason for it. But we go back a long way and it was 1990 when we first met properly as we had had a match against one another. That was at Baltray – where this year’s Irish Open – and then the following year we found ourselves as partners in the Walker Cup.
Of course, this year we’ve already teamed-up at the Ryder Cup. In what was a really memorable day we overcame Davis Love and Tiger Woods 4&3 in the Saturday foursomes, watched by a whole host of Irish fans among the European contingent. It was a really special atmosphere and terrific to win in the circumstances
Over the years, we’ve had more good days than bad days. It’s not all been a bed of roses but we work hard and like playing together. We get on well as a team and we know we’re going to enjoy this week, which helps.
Seven years ago…
When we won the World Cup in 1997 it was an exceptional week for us. Winning was a big, big thing at the time. Both Paul and I played very solidly – and that was one of the best things about it. It was not like one of us was playing well while the other was just hanging in there. We were both scoring well, although we did it in distinctly different fashions. Paul hit a lot of fairways and greens while I chipped and putted well. Either way, our results were roughly the same; he shot 16-under, while I was 15-under. So it was a real team effort.
The Real Club de Golfe de Sevilla
We’re playing a course designed by Jose Maria Olazabal this week. It staged the Seville Open earlier this season, but neither Paul nor myself were playing that week, so it is new to us if not most of the field. There are four large lakes around the track, which come into play on many holes while I’m told there are just under 100 bunkers. So you clearly need to see your shots and execute them with accuracy.
There are a few par-4s where not dropping a shot will be a more than acceptable result. The 451-yard 2nd, in particular, is tough and rated the most difficult here. The 15th – at 437 yards – wouldn’t be that long but again it is testing and a hole where judging the wind is key.
The par-3s are a challenge, as well, with two – the 7th and the 17th – measuring over 225 yards. The 198-yard 11th is also awkward, with the small green protected by five sand traps.
In the old days, both players in a team used to play their own ball to count for all four days. Since 2000, the format has been different with four-ball being used for both the first and third round while we play foursomes on Friday and the final day. I think it’s an exciting format and we should be in for another exciting renewal of the tournament.
In the first round, we’re starting from the first tee at 10.12, out with Holland’s Robert-Jan Derksen and Maarten Lafaber.
In the frame in Spain
So, we were third at the end of an eventful week in Seville at the World Cup of Golf – an event we won back in 1997. We finished three behind the winners England, but it was nice to have contended throughout. On reflection, perhaps we didn’t quite get the breaks as it certainly could have been our week if one or two things had gone our way. Sometimes, you do need things to happen at the right time.
Off to a flier
We played four-ball better-ball on the opening day and immediately got off to a great start in the tournament with an opening 12 under par 60 to tie at the top with Austria.
We got a lot of good breaks early on and played well after that. Of course we would have liked to have gone one better and shot 59. It’s a milestone and very difficult to do even in a four-ball format.
The conditions were ideal for low scoring. Firstly, the weather was perfect and the pins were generous. Plus, the greens were soft and putting at a nice speed so you were always going to get good scoring in four-ball play.
But we couldn’t be too disappointed with a 60. To be right in there as we were at the end of the opening day is all you can ask for.
As with any normal 72-hole tournament, you're really just looking to jockey into position the first couple of rounds and see how you go from there.
The Friday foursomes was a real battle for us and things didn’t quite happen the way we wanted them to. With foursomes golf, you can shoot 71 without playing badly and that's what we did on the second day. You know, that's the nature of the game.
We just tried to be patient and not force the issue. And we did pretty well for the most part, hanging in there, holing putts from four and five feet for pars. In the main, we were not really threatening birdies but we had our break at the par-5 13th and made eagle. Then, as we were thinking about a 68 we had a setback with a double bogey seven at the par-5 16th. That was a blow as it’s a hole you’re thinking about picking up a shot on. The English duo of Paul Casey and Luke Donald enjoyed a hot day to end up six clear of us. But we were a long way from finished.
Back in business
Saturday’s four-balls brought us back into contention. The pins were tougher and it got windy out there, but we played reasonable golf, especially down the back nine to sign for a 64 that left us three off the lead with 18 holes remaining.
If there was any criticism, it was that we were not enough ‘in the holes’ together. On the opening day, we had a lot of chances with the two of us playing most holes and that gives great back up when there's another guy in there. It gives you added confidence and a degree of security.
We also suffered a bogey on the par-3 10th. That’s one thing you can’t really afford on your card in four-ball better-balls. But we did well to come back. We were five-under for the last seven holes, which was pleasing. So we weren’t quite in the position we'd have liked with 18 holes to go, but we were still right up there and in with a chance.
If someone had offered us a final-round 65 on Sunday morning, I daresay we’d have taken it – I’d have thought at the time that such a score might have been enough to win it. As it was, our seven-under effort left us three short of Luke Donald and Paul Casey but we kept playing well pretty much throughout.
We made birdies at both the 1st and the 2nd and carried on from there. Those holes gave us good momentum and we continued playing well, hitting good shots. We were getting the most out of the round most of the way through.
Five-under to the turn, we knew the situation required us to push awfully hard down the stretch as we had to keep making birdies to have a chance of winning.
It's tough in that situation. You know you've got to keep making the birdies, but we ended up bogeying the 15th. Sometimes it's very hard when you're pushing all the time to keep the breaks going your way.
I think we got every bit you could get out of the round for the first 14 holes, and probably the last four holes we didn't.
Moving on, I’m in Korea this week for the Korea Golf Championship.