This year I decided on a slightly different approach to my practise for the Irish Open. I had a week off prior to the tournament. I played the course on the Thursday before the Open and planned to practise on the Tuesday and Wednesday of the tournament. It was a dual purpose game, the first purpose was obviously to see the course and the second was to play a game with three of my brothers and also play a match against my oldest brother Tadhg. Tadhg plays off 13 and has been telling me that he is the best 13 handicapper going so I challenged him to a game around Carton House and told him that I would give him 30 shots. After a tough start where he lost a few balls he decided to forfeit the match so as to enjoy the round and leave me with the bragging rights for about four hours. Needless to say I lost the Fourball match to him!
The weekend before the event I worked with my coach, Bob Torrance, to iron out a few kinks that had crept into my swing over the past few weeks. It was a good season with Bob; he was able to tell me exactly what I had been doing wrong. He is also here for the whole week so he will be able to keep an eye on me during the tournament.
Unfortunately due to a recurrence of my neck injury over the weekend my original plans have been hampered. I was unable to do any practise on Tuesday. I received treatment from my physio on Monday evening, Tuesday and twice on Wednesday. I played in the pro-am on Wednesday to see how it was.
My old injury came back and put my participation in doubt. However after lengthy sessions with my physio over the past few days I am fit enough to play. It is not 100% but is good enough to play. It held up fine in the pro-am on Wednesday so judging by that it should be fine on Thursday morning.
It is a recurrence of an old problem but I have been working hard on it over the past few years to strengthen the area so as to stop it flaring up. The reason that it flared up again is that I slept awkwardly on it one night, a postural problem. This is something I will have to work on going forward to reduce the risk of it coming back.
My neck problem has curtailed my practise on the course but from the two rounds I have played on it I can certainly say that it will be a very tough test. Coming back from America these fairways look really tight and I reckon that they are 50% tighter that in America. The course is exposed and as such it will always be windy with the prevailing wind tending to blow across most of the holes which makes it even harder to hit the fairways. Having negotiated the fairways you then have to contend with tough greens with a lot of run offs on them. I particularly like these sorts of greens as it means that you have to chip well. This is definitely a course that you must be patient on and there will be a lot of tough shots due to the wind and tight fairways but it is important to accept whatever breaks you get. As always somebody in the field will play well and not see the trouble and end up winning. This is always the case.
With the course playing this tough there will be lots of horror stories but the important thing is to ensure that I stick to doing my own thing and not let it get to me.
I was asked in my press conference how I rated my chances this week. I feel that I haven’t played enough tournament golf. In the six weeks after my win in the Honda I played only 6 competitive rounds and since then I have played two more tournaments, 8 rounds. They have helped a bit but I still feel like I am not match fit as such. That’s not to say that it won’t all change this week but realistically it may take a few more weeks to come round. Two or three more tournaments under my belt and then I reckon I will be feeling fully ready. Where that puts me for this week I don’t know. I wouldn’t be backing myself but then you just never know what will happen, especially on a course like this.
Another Irish Open passes by and still no Irish winner. It is hard to figure out why it has been so long since we have managed to have a home champion. I know that all the Irish players try so hard to get into contention and ultimately to win but unfortunately to no avail. It may be part of the problem that we all try too hard. For me the week was a mixed one. It started badly with my neck problem hindering my preparation. As I was saying earlier in the week it was an old injury that comes back every now and then. As the week progress my neck began to get better. I was getting two sessions of physio a day on it which helped no end.
For the first two rounds I was drawn with Soren Hanson and Simon Khan. We played early on Thursday and late Friday. Our tee time on Thursday was 7.40am, for me this meant a wake-up call at 4.30a.m. as I was staying at home! It was a windy morning which made the course play quite tough. I started on the 10th hole. It began fine as I parred the 10th, 11th and 12th to be level. The 13th, a 350 yard par 4 was playing down wind which meant that I could reach the green with a good drive. I hit a solid drive but a little left, it finished in the heavy rough short left of the green. I failed to get up and down and settled for a par, but a disappointing one. On the 14th I hit my drive left into the heavy rough, from here I hit a wedge short of the green in the hope of a pitch and putt par. However I pitched short of the green then chipped to two and half feet only to miss - a double bogey! I immediately birdied the next, parred 16, bogeyed 17 and birdied 18, to finish the nine in 2 over par.
The front nine brought more of the same, four pars to start and then a bogey on the 5th, my 14th hole. I pared the 6th and 7th to be three over with 2 to play. At this stage I was quite frustrated as I know that anything around par is a good score. A birdie on the par 5 8th got me back to 2 over and then a 25 foot putt on my last hole for birdie made me feel much better. I finished with a round of 73, which by the end of the days play was not too bad.
Having finished with two birdies on Thursday I was feeling a lot better about myself as they had brought me right back into the tournament. I knew that a good score in the second round would move me right up the leader board. I opened up with 7 straight pars; I just could manage to get the ball in the hole for a birdie. On the 8th, a par 5, I miss hit my 3rd shot from 108 yards into the wind to leave me chipping from just short of the green. From here I took three to get down for a bogey 6. This was not the start I was looking for but I managed to get the shot straight back after pitching to 10 feet on the 9th. The back 9 continued on the same track, more pars. I made my second birdie on the 13th hole - I drove it in the green side bunker and got up and down. I then missed another short putt on the 14th for another bogey and back to 1 over. From here I parred my way in to finish on 1 over par for the tournament. I was still not out of it but it made it harder for me to catch the leaders.
My playing partner on Saturday was Darren Clarke; it has been a couple of years since we played a competitive round together. We were out reasonably early but there was still a very big crowd down to watch us. We both wanted to get a score going to give the crowd something to cheer about but again no matter how hard we tried we couldn’t get anything going. We both parred the first 7 holes; in those holes we both had chances but could convert them. When we did make our first birdies on the 8th they were boring birdies as we had both hit the par 5 in two. Darren then birdied the 9th and I parred it. I started the back 9 with a three putt bogey on the 10th, again missing a short putt. Standing on the 13th tee I was 1 over par for the tournament. I had played lovely golf for the 12 holes and had nothing to show for it but I was determined to finish well. I drove the 13th after Darren and we both made birdie. In the last 5 holes I managed three more birdies, the 15th, 16th and 18th to finish with a 68 for an overall total of 3 under par. It was a nice way to finish. It was probably the best that I have played all year and certainly the best I have ever driven the ball since I have been on tour, I hit 13 of 14 fairways!
My 68 left me 6 shots behind. Certainly not an insurmountable gap but it would take a great round.
The final round, I played with Titch Moore. Just as we were about to tee off the hooter went for a weather delay, it was like being back in the States! We had a 90 minute delay before we eventually got underway. Again the crowds were huge and they many seemed to be watching my group. I was hoping for a fast start like in the final round last year in Baltray and I birdied the second after pitching to 2 feet followed by a par at the 3rd. But then for the fourth time this week I failed to make birdie on the par 5 4th. On the 5th I drove into a bunker which resulted in a bogey. However, I would get this shot back on the par 3 7th, a lovely 6 iron from 182 yards to set up a birdie 2, but again I couldn’t find a birdie on the next par 5. The back nine started badly with a three putt bogey on the 10th again and back to 3 under. I parred the 11th and 12th. The short par 4 13th was reachable again and this time I hit it in the left hand greenside trap. The pin was back right so I had a twenty yard bunker shot. The sand was a little hard but I caught it perfectly, and although I couldn’t see over the lip of the bunker, I knew that it was going to be close but I was never thinking that I would hole it! But that’s exactly what happened. The crowd went mental.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything to go with it. I parred the 14th and then played the par 5 15th badly and ended up taking a 6 to go back to 4 under. Another sand save on the 16th kept me at minus 4. A nicely struck 7 iron from 183 yards on the 17th set up another birdie to put me 5 under. Finally, to finish off my Irish Open for 2005 I managed a birdie down the last to leave me on 6 under.
Overall I was happy with my performance. I had come into the week playing badly and carrying an injury. However the work that I did with Bob Torrance got me swinging well and led me to playing my best golf of the year. My neck injury improved over the course of the week also. Looking back on the week I am delighted with the way that I drove the ball, it was definitely my best week ever with regard to fairways hit and another major positive was my bunker play. I managed to hole once and get another 7 out of 9 up and down. My biggest problem over the week was that I was never comfortable over my putts and as a result I missed 3 putts from inside 3 feet along with a number from 8 feet in. However when I think that I missed out on a play-off by 3 shots it makes me feel that my game is coming back. Certainly I have taken more positives than negatives from this week; I know that I could have possibly made the play-off if I was feeling good with the putter.
Stephen Dodd was a worthy winner; it is unfortunate for David Howell as he lost out in a play-off the week before to Thomas Bjorn, but his time will come. For me it is a return to Wentworth for the BMW Championship. I haven’t been here at this time of year for two years now. I have said before that the greens don’t suit me at this time of year but I want to give it another go as it is a big event and one that I would like to win. So I shall be working on my putting this week!