It is a year since I lost out in a play-off to Sergio Garcia for the Buick Classic in Westchester Country Club. I am back again but this time it is the Barclays Classic. Having missed my last two cuts in a row, as far as I can remember it is the first time that I have missed 2 cuts in a row in my career, it is nice to come back to a course where I have done well before. Also, it is good to play a course that I have good memories on; it helps your confidence to know that you have contended on a course. It was disappointing to miss the cut in the US Open but that is over now. I spent Saturday and Sunday morning practicing at Pinehurst. The practice went well but as I have been saying I have been happy with my game on the range for the last while, I just haven’t managed to bring it to the course. The main problem that I was having was that my grip was not feeling comfortable but after my couple of days practice it feels much better.
Westchester Country Club
This is an old style course measuring just over 6,800 yards with a par of 71. It is short by normal tour standards but it certainly isn’t easy as a result. Like most old courses it uses rolling fairways and elevation changes to make it play longer than its yardage, an example of this is the 9 hole, a par 5 with an elevation change of 17 yards from the fairway up to the green. Another strength of the course is the greens; they are relatively small but very fast. The key to the greens is to ensure that you don’t go above the flag, as anything beyond the flag or over the green is very hard to get down in two from. I feel that this course has 18 strong holes, however there are a few holes that I feel will be important this week. The 3 par fives will be the key holes as they are good chances of birdies and with this tournament, normally a modest scoring event, it puts more emphasis on the par fives. But realistically the holes that will have more say in the destination of the trophy are the last four holes.
The 15th is a 460 yard par 4 the drive is over a tree and then the second shot is downhill to a heavily sloped green from front to back. This is a tough hole as it is a tight tee shot. The 16th is a 220 yard par 3, it plays downhill again to a small green with bunkers on the left and right. Again the green slopes from back to front. Missing this green makes for a hard par. The 17th is a short par four, a birdie chance but also a possibility of a bogey. A sloping fairway and two bunkers at the driving distance make this a tricky hole. This is where I went out of the play-off last year after taking 3 from the edge of the green.
I have good and bad memories of the 18th hole. It is reachable par 5 with a well bunkered green. The drive has to be hit tight to the left to ensure a good angle for the second shot. Last year as my 72 hole I holed a chip shot to get into the play-off and then as the first play-off hole I had a 6 footer to win. I hit a perfect putt that just ran over the lip and failed to drop.
I have played 27 holes in practice this week. 9 on Tuesday and 18 in the pro-am on Wednesday. The course is playing very well and is dry and firm. However on Wednesday afternoon there was a thunder storm which will have softened the course and greens. I am happy with how my practice went this week and feel that things are coming back. Hopefully I can give myself a chance and see how things go.
I am drawn with Sergio Garcia and Mark Calcavechia for the first two rounds. I tee off the first on Thursday at 12.40 local time ( 5.40 pm Irish time) and from the 10th tee on Friday at 7.40 am (12.40 pm)
What a turnaround in a week!! Having missed the cut in the previous two weeks I certainly wasn’t expecting to come here and win. I felt coming here that I could have a good week as I like the golf course, but to win was fantastic. I arrived here this week knowing that I wasn’t playing badly but I had still missed the cut in my previous two events, something that I had never done before in my professional career. It was a nice place to be coming to all things considered as I had done well here last year. Having spent the weekend practising at Pinehurst I decided to take Monday off and take in some of the sights of Manhattan with my family. We had a great day looking around and relaxing and in the evening we went to a New York Yankees baseball game. A day away from golf was probably exactly what I needed.
I started slowly, shooting a round of 71, which was a fair enough result for the way I played. I was 1 under after 7 holes and parred my way to the 11th, where I made my first bogey due to a 3 putt. I followed this up with a bogey on the 12th where I failed to get up and down from short of the green. However I played the last 3 holes in 1 under to get me round in level par. I birdied the long par 3 16th, holing a 30 footer for a 2 and then finished with 2 pars. I had a good chance of a birdie on the last as I was in the greenside bunker but failed to get up and down. All in all level par was not a bad score.
For my second round I started on the 10th. It is a drivable par 4 which I laid up on all week. On Friday I pulled my second shot left, not the start I wanted but I managed to get it up and down for a par and never looked back after that. I made birdies on the 12th (a five iron to 3 feet), 16th (a four iron to 4 feet) and then eagled the 18th to be out in 4 under. My eagle on the 18th was a nice bonus as I was in the bunker just right of the pin and managed to hole out - always nice! I was playing nicely and kept going on the front nine, parring the first 3 holes and then I birdied the 4th (an 8 iron to 2 feet) and a chip and putt birdie on the par 5 5th. I got to 7 under for the day on the 7th after pitching to 3 feet. However on the 8th hole I hit a good tee shot over the corner of the dogleg but unfortunately it was too good and ended up in the water which put an end to my momentum as I finished with a bogey and par for a 65 to put me on 6 under for the tournament and in the second last group on Saturday. After the previous two weeks I was very happy with my performance so far.
During the third round I played with Kenny Perry and Len Mattice. I played solidly for the day to shoot 68 which put me on 9 under. I felt that I could have made a few more birdies or even a couple less mistakes, but I bogeyed the 11th and 12th again! All in all I was happy as I finished tied for the lead with Jim Furyk and we had a 2 shot gap to third place. I was happy to be in the last group on Sunday for the first time in quite a while.
Sunday was another warm day in New York but there was a good breeze blowing. My final round started fine, a nice 7 iron to the back of the 1st green and 2 putts for a par. Both my playing partners bogeyed. Then it went a little downhill. I played the 3rd well as far as the green. The pin was in a tough position so I purposely didn’t attack it; I ended up with a 25 footer for birdie which I hit 4 feet past and then missed the return. On the 3rd, I missed the fairway left in the heavy rough and wasn’t able to reach the green in regulation even though I only had 120 yards to go. I pitched to 15 feet above the hole for my third and then 3 putted again and Furyk birdied to open a 3 shot lead. I was disappointed with my start but I didn’t panic, I stuck to my game plan and kept plugging away. I parred 4, 5 and 6 and then made a birdie on the 7th after nearly driving the green and then finished the front 9 with another par and an eagle on the 9th after a 6 iron from 216 yards. This put me back to where I started and only a shot behind Jim.
Unfortunately I struggled on holes 11 and 12 again, I bogeyed both of them for the 3rd time in the week. Jim played them in level par and so standing on the 13th tee I was 3 behind again. I played the 13th badly but made a good up and down from the front of the green to stay 3 behind. I still felt that I had a chance but I knew I needed to do something quickly as I was running out of holes. The 14th was playing 134 yards to the pin; Jim hit a nice shot straight over the flag to about 18 feet. I hit a smooth wedge to 4 feet and holed to make up a shot on him. We both parred the 15th. The 16th was good to me for the first 3 days as I had made three 2’s. I was hitting a 5 iron playing 218 yards, and was trying to hit it close. I hit my worst shot of the day short and right of the green which was not where you want to hit it with the pin tight on the right. Jim played after me and pulled his shot left and then pitched to about 9 feet. My pitch was extremely difficult as I had no green to work with; I played it exactly how I wanted to and managed to get it to 4 feet. Jim missed and I holed so now I am 1 behind with 2 holes to play. On the 17th I hit a 3 iron off the tee to leave me with a wedge. Jim laid up behind me and then hit his second just through the green. I hit my wedge to 12 feet and was feeling very confident that I would hole my putt but it never went near the hole. I had struggled with the putter most of the week and this was another one of my poor putts. I didn’t even watch Jim putt out as I assumed he would hole. I was thinking that I would need a good last hole to get into a play-off but then he missed and all of a sudden things changed!
I knew that I could reach the 18th and that Jim would be struggling to get there and hit probably my best drive of the week around the corner to leave me with 206 yards to the front of the green. Jim pushed his into the rough and had to lay up. I was debating between a 3 or a 4 iron for my second and eventually went with the 3 which I hit lovely but was surprised to see it finish on the front of the green.
Walking up to the green I was thinking that I would have a chance of winning if I could get down in two. The putt reminded me of the long putt that I left dead in St. Margarets to win the Irish PGA last year. All the time I was looking at it, I was just thinking of getting it close as I knew that Jim had a 15 footer from off the green for birdie. I hit the putt real pure and was watching it all the way. It took the first break as I thought and then the second one and from 6 feet out I knew that it was in. All I remember is the total excitement. I have never had this feeling of watching a ball go in like that for a win. Normally I am in Jim’s position and someone is doing it to me. I couldn’t believe it and was jumping around with the crowd going mad. It was like a scene from a movie!!! These things don’t normally happen to me.
In the end I won by one shot from Jim Furyk. A lot of people have asked me how I turned my game around from missing cuts to winning. The truth is that it wasn’t the game that was the problem it was me. I was getting too hard on myself, not enjoying my golf and trying too hard. This week I went back to my normal ways, smiled and enjoyed it no matter what. Yes it’s hard at times to smile but it definitely makes you feel better. It was a nice way to finish my 3 weeks in the States and made coming home for this weeks European Open in the K club all the more exciting.
My win got me back into the top ten in the world again, 8th, and moved me to 9th in the US Tour order of merit. For now it is back to the European Tour and a lot more smiling!!!!