Taking aim at Target
My season comes to a finish this week with the Target World Challenge at the Sherwood Country Club in California. It’s an event I always look forward to, and one in which I’ve done reasonably well. This will be the fourth time I’ve played this limited-field tournament and I managed a win here two years ago, while finishing third 12 months back. For whatever reason, it does seem that some of my best golf comes late in the year and it would be great if I can bring the curtain down on 2004 with a second Target success. If I can improve on my final-round putting at last week’s Hong Kong Open where I shared second place, then I’d hope to be competitive once again.
Looking back at the Target
I’ve got fond memories of my win in this event in 2002. It was my first-ever individual victory in America, although five years before Paul McGinley and I were successful together at Kiawah Island in the World Cup. But my 2002 Target win was a special one as I succeeded in holding off Tiger Woods in the fourth round. In that tournament I also shot a nine-under 63, which was the course record. That still stands, although Davis Love III equalled it a year ago.
As for my defence of the title, I wasn’t too far off making a successful one last December. At the half-way point I led by a shot but in the end had to settle for third spot despite breaking par on both the Saturday and Sunday.
The Sherwood Country Club is scenic with lots of mature oak trees and some fine landscaping. The Jack Nicklaus–designed course measures just over 7,000 yards and is intriguing. It’s a real strategy test right from the 341-yard first where it’s possible to have a crack at the green off the tee or alternatively go with a long-iron to leave a short-iron approach.
Then there’s the seventh with a split fairway where your route will largely be determined by the pin placement on the 449-yard par-4. You certainly need to be accurate off the tee on many holes with the par-4 ninth being a case in point. There you have to thread the drive before carrying your second over a pond onto the green.
The back nine offers up good scoring opportunities with its three par-5’s but there are one or two holes to be really wary of. The 14th, in particular, plays very tough. It is a right-to-left dog-leg and measures 457 yards. The following hole is a stunning par-3 with waterfalls in front of the green and a mountain backdrop.
There may only be 16 in the field, but it’s a case of quality not quantity. We’ve got the World No.1 Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods, who is very involved with the event. There’s a couple of strong European challengers, as well, in the shape of last week’s Hong Kong Open winner Miguel Angel Jimenez and Colin Montgomerie, who was fourth here a year ago. It’s all set up to be a cracking four days golf and I’ll give you some thoughts on it next week.
My season ended with a second place – this time, at the Target World Challenge behind a certain Mr T Woods. I know there will be people who will comment, ‘Oh, Padraig was second again.’ But after this runner-up spot at the Sherwood Golf and Country Club in California I have to say I’m comfortable with where I’m at with my game. I would add that over the past few days I’ve had my A-game, which is a good feeling. But I know that I can still improve a lot of things which bodes well for the future.
The early blows
For the most part of the first round, my name wasn’t really up there on the leaderboard. I made a low-key start to the event with a lot of pars on the front nine. But coming back, I got it going nicely and made three birdies to push myself into contention. The round finished on a positive note, as well, as I holed a 20-footer for a par that felt like a birdie at the closing par-4. So at the end of day one I was at three-under, a stroke behind the three co-leaders, one of whom was Colin Montgomerie.
The good and the bad
Friday had its ups and downs. All was going along quite nicely – especially when I holed a wedge approach for an eagle two at the par-4 11th. You don’t like to get ahead of yourself, but at that stage it was fair to say that I was only thinking about pushing on yet further. So, it came as a blow when I handed both of those shots back with a double bogey at the tricky par-5 16th. It’s an interesting risk-reward hole. You can reach the green in two with a good drive and a threaded fairway wood. But the hole is riddled with danger – a hazard running alongside up the right and over-hanging trees putting pressure on the approach shot.
After dropping two shots there, it was also frustrating to miss a short putt on the last. Still a 69 left me five-under and not out of contention, even if I had dropped back to trail both Monty and Tiger by four.
Making my move
Saturday saw some progress. I played quite nicely to shoot a 67. I was happy enough with that, although every golfer just about always thinks it could have been a couple better. Even so, my score lifted me to nine-under, still four off the lead, which was held at the 54-hole point by Colin alone.
On Tiger’s tail
I knew that if I was to have a realistic chance of winning my second Target title, then a fast start was imperative. And that’s exactly what I got. I went to the turn in 31 on a golf course I really like. It gives you a lot of opportunity to make birdies. There is a lot of trouble out there, as well. But if you play good golf, you can make birdies and eagles at Sherwood unlike, maybe, a US-Open style course.
And so, I managed to put myself into a position where a win was certainly a possibility – although Woods had played his way to the top. Unfortunately, I just came unstuck at the 16th again where I knew I just had to try and force the issue, with Tiger just ahead.
It was a bit of an adventure. I hit my approach into a hazard but was able to play it towards the green. Sadly, the ball ended up in a bush, forcing me to play out left-handed en route to a bogey.
Looking back on it, the key shot was the approach. It was a 280-yard shot and I was trying to hit a hard 5-wood. Sometimes they come off and sometimes they don't. As I’ve just mentioned, I needed to produce something over the last couple of holes. I knew Tiger was ahead at that stage, and I wanted to make a couple of birdies coming home.
Funnily enough, I hit back by picking the shot back up on 17, but another bogey at the last after I’d driven into thick rough resulted in me finishing two behind Tiger. A win would have been a great way to end the year and obviously I had a good chance.
But I can’t be too down about not winning because there were a lot of positives for me to take away. It’s always a plus when you’re bang in contention.
It’s been a really busy second half of the season for me and I’m now looking forward to putting my feet up for a Christmas break. I’m going to take nine weeks off in which I’ve got plenty of things to do. It will be a good break, but I’ll be back here to write for you before returning to Tour golf next season.
Thanks for taking the time to support me this year. I really appreciate it. Anyway, I hope you have a great Christmas and a happy New Year. Cheers!