The week in Houston was a week of what could have been. I finished in a tie for 67th on one under par and with 23 holes to go I was nine under par and cruising, four shots off the lead and feeling good. I then hit a poor tee shot on the fifth hole (my fourteenth) of my third round which ended up in a hazard by a bush. I tried to play it and only moved it a foot, then from there I ended up taking five more shots to get it in the hole, which cost me a triple bogey and all my momentum. I proceeded to drop three more shots over the next four holes to finish my day shooting two over par. From being nine under par for the tournament to finishing three under was awful.
I am disappointed with how the week went as I had a chance to get myself into contention and threw it away. After shooting a good second round to make the cut I was feeling good and looking forward to the weekend. I must admit that I was surprised to see the cut at four under par and would have been devastated to miss it if I had finished on three under. I was happy with my five under par total as we had played in the tougher of the conditions - it was windy both days when we were out on the course - and that was with a bad finish in round one so I knew that I had a good score in me. It was looking like it was coming out on Saturday, but a couple of bad shots ended up costing me a lot.
For the first three days I felt good and hit the ball well. On Sunday I struggled a bit as I had done some practice on Saturday afternoon and it felt a bit strange on the course. It wasn't that it felt bad but just a bit different - I had been working on my leg work, which was great on the range on Saturday, but I found it a bit unsettling on Sunday. The feeling I had was what I wanted, but it just felt different. However by the end of the round it was starting to feel good, which is great for next week. When I got it right over the course of the four rounds I hit the ball very well, particularly with the driver. Up until the bad drive on Saturday I had driven it very well and on Friday I hit 17 greens in regulation, which I'm not sure I have ever done before.
While it was an extremely disappointing week in terms of my performance, given that I went there looking to win, I saw a lot of good things for the week ahead - I hit a lot of very good shots and what I was most pleased with was how I drove the ball, for the most part. The years that I have done well in Augusta, I have driven it well and nowadays you have to drive it good if you want to do well there.
I am disappointed with my week in Houston but I am ready and looking forward to next week. I got a lot of good things out of the week and I am confident that the few bad shots that cost me will be ironed out by Thursday.
This week last year I was here in Houston trying to win the tournament like every week, but also attempting to qualify for the Masters. This year I am already exempt after my win at the Honda Classic, but I am playing here with one eye on next week. It is always hard to keep yourself focused on the week in hand when you have a major championship the following week. That said I still prefer to play rather than not - I like the competitive practice and having the opportunity to try things that I may need for the following week in a tournament. This can mean a new club, a particular shot or even something in my game.
Last week at home, I had Pete Cowen over for a day and we did some work on my swing. He has me a bit more on top of the ball than I would be normally be, which can feel a little strange at times. When I get it right I can see the improvement in the quality of the shot, but when I don't it is generally down to me not trusting it. Pete is also in Houston this week and we have spent a bit of time working on it in practice. I am really happy with what we are doing, the only problem is getting myself to trust it and then forget about it so that I can go and play golf. If I had a couple of weeks off it would be fine, but I have to play a tournament this week. In the pro-am I was doing my best to stop thinking about it and get back to focusing on my target. I found it tough for the most part but as the day went on I was getting into it.
The course here in Houston is in perfect condition as always. While it is nothing like Augusta in design, the condition they get it in is every bit as good and so it is a great warm up for The Masters. It is an absolute joy to play a course in as good a condition as this and you almost feel guilty taking a divot. I have played 28 holes in practice, 10 on Tuesday and then the pro-am on Wednesday. There haven't been any course changes this year, in fact there haven't been any for a few years now. It is always nice to come back to a course that is the same as the prior year because it takes a lot of the stress out of the practice days and there is less urgency about getting out on the course.
My practice has been a bit hampered by a sore neck this week. I did something to it before I left home and it has affected me since. I have received physio on it which has helped but I could still feel it in the pro-am. It meant that I couldn't quite go at the ball 100% but I am hoping that it will be ok come Thursday afternoon. The good news though is that it is not bad enough to stop me playing.
I have spent quite a bit of time working on my putting as well this week as it hasn't been great over the last few weeks. Paul Hurrion is here and we have done some work together. He is happy with what he sees and I am feeling good about my putting. The greens are very good this week so there are no excuses.
As always the week before a major, I am trying to win. The best preparation for me is to go out there and win this week and then worry about next week. Looking for back-to-back wins would be a nice problem to have!