DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 08: Padraig Harrington of Ireland during the pro-am as a preview for the 2014 Volvo Golf Champions tournament at Durban Country Club on January 8, 2014 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
My first week of the season is over; it is always the most nerve racking week of the year. After spending my winter break practising I am always unsure what to expect when I come out for the first tournament of the year. That's why the Volvo Golf Champions is such as nice event to start at; the fact there is no cut is huge after such a long break. It's funny how pro golfers spend so much time and effort worrying about cuts but it is a big factor in our heads. Going there last week was no different than any other year - I was anxious about what my game was going to be like and also wanting an extra week to practice - some things will never change.
In the end I had a good week, I wouldn't say I played great but I progressed nicely over the week and finished in a tie for 5th. The really good thing for me about my finish was that it was as a result of a good final round, which is another funny thing about us pros - we are always happy when we have shot a good final round. There is no doubt that I could have been further under par over the course of my last round and over the rest of the week, but then I am sure everyone would say the same.
The main story for me during the week was the fact that I had to enlist a friend, Pat Cashman, onto my bag after six holes on Friday. Ronan got food poisoning and was only able to make six holes before he had to be taken in by First Aid. I have never seen him look so bad and for him to have to go in meant that he was feeling even worse than he looked. Pat was there watching and was happy to do me the favour. He started out a true amateur caddy, carrying the bag like you would a quiver, but by the end of the round he had really found his feet. He made it round no problem and was a great help; it was great to have someone that I know fill in. It did give me a new appreciation for what caddies do for players; it is only when you have to do it yourself that you realise how much work it all is - measuring the yardage, the wind direction, water, food and all the other little things that we need. Thankfully Ronan was well looked after by the medical team and was able to work on Saturday; he was still pretty weak but just about made it round. I asked him a few times on the course how he was feeling and he said fine but then on the eighteenth green I looked at him and he was wiped. He reckoned if we had to go another hole he wouldn't have made it. However, by Sunday he was nearly as good as new.
My game was very ropey early in the week as I was struggling with alignment and feel, which are the normal things after a break. As the week went on I could see improvements and the important thing for me was that I managed myself well around the course. I have played there a few times now and like the course, it is tight in areas but once you play it sensibly you are ok. It's a course I would be happy to play on every week. I hit a lot of three irons last week (I left my hybrid out because it gets so windy there) and was happy to leave myself a longer shot in. I struggled a bit on the greens, not so much with my putting but with trusting my reading, but again I feel this is an early season matter. But the end of the week it was a little better but I definitely could have scored a lot better had I holed more of the chances I gave myself.
I went there to see where my game was at and I am coming away pleasantly surprised. I hit a lot of very good shots during the week and the important thing was that it got better as the week went on. My short game was a little rusty but, like my long game, it was getting better each day. I know the areas that need work before next Thursday but in general I am pleased with what I have seen.
I am heading to Abu Dhabi and then home after that. I will see Pete there and also spend the week working with Dave Alred. I'm looking forward to sitting down with them, discussing last week, chatting about the things I saw in my game and seeing what they think.
All in all I am leaving Durban happy. It was a solid first week and could have been better but, as I was saying, everyone will say that. I have a few things to work on before next Thursday but in general I am happy with what I saw and looking forward to putting it to the test again this coming week.
It is the start of my 2014 season and I am in Durban for the Volvo Golf Champions tournament. I have started my season at this event for the last three years - it is one of the premier tournaments on the European Tour and also a great event to have as your first of the year. As there is no cut it means that you get to see where your game is at over four days without having to stress about making the weekend. To qualify for this event you have to have won an event last season or won over ten times on the European Tour, the latter of which gained my exemption.
After seven weeks away from tournament golf I am looking forward to playing this week. As usual I practiced a lot during my off season, the majority of it at home but I did spend a week out in San Diego working with the guys at the TPI centre, and then last week I was in Sun City for a family holiday so I got to do some warm weather practice before arriving in Durban. I was very happy with the work I did in San Diego, in terms of my swing it showed that what I have been working on is correct and then I also got to do some ball testing. I found that the new Titleist ProV1x is the best ball for me, as it spins the most with my wedges and reacts best off the driver.
I came away with a few things to work on but nothing too major and since then I have been practicing away at home and have played very little. In Sun City I only played one game, so when I got to Durban Country Club on Saturday I was keen to get playing to see what my game was like. I played eighteen holes on Saturday and then nine or so on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, then on Wednesday I played the pro am. It was good to get back onto a course and get away from practicing, I would say that my game felt quite ropey on Saturday but has improved as the week has gone by. I have struggled with my alignment on the course which is not unusual for the first week out; also, from what I can remember I had a similar problem last year. I have worked on it all week and it was much better today in the pro-am. It is hard to too know what to expect tomorrow as my practice hasn't been great, improving, but not great. I would say it is pretty similar to most other years at this stage, in that I am waiting to see how the first tournament goes and then I can sit back and assess my game.
This is my third tournament around Durban Country Club. My first was in 1996 as a rookie on tour and then last year was my second. It is a course that I like, there are a great mix of holes and it is a real old style course. It can't really be over powered and you have to use your head. There are plenty of birdie holes as the four par fives are reachable and the 18th is too, but there are plenty of holes where you can run up a big number. It's a course you have to treat with respect and one that I would love to win on. I will be trying as hard as always this week, but I am playing with no expectations as I really am not sure where my game is at.
I am looking forward to beginning my season tomorrow and am hopeful that it will get off to a good start, but I will wait and see. The important thing is that I am happy with the work I have done during the winter and now it is time to get back to playing and see how it goes.