I am back in Scotland for the Dunhill Links; it’s a tournament that I enjoy playing in. I have always enjoyed coming to St. Andrews to play be it as an amateur or a pro. As a golfer it is hard not to enjoy coming here. For this tournament we play 3 different courses, Carnoustie, Kings Barns and St. Andrews. It is a pro am format, again a format that I enjoy playing in. I won this event after the Ryder cup in 2002 so that helps when I am coming back, it always brings back good memories when you come back to a place that you have won at. The year I won it I played in the team event with J.P. McManus and we won the team part of the tournament also so it was an extra special win. This year I am paired with J.P. again so hopefully it might bring us both some luck again.
This is a special event on the European tour calendar, as it is a pro am it means that the first three rounds are played in fourballs, 2 pros and 2 amateurs and the cut is not made until after the third round. On top of this the golfers are almost second fiddle this week as there are always several big stars that come and play in the event. This year we have film stars Michael Douglas and Kyle McLaughlin playing, from the sporting world there is Keith Wood, Zinzan Brooke, Bobby Charlton and Gianfranco Zola. So as you can imagine there are as many people turning up to watch the stars as there are to watch the golfers also most of the golfers are delighted to get the chance to play with some of their idols.
As I was saying last week I am happy with the state of my game. I felt that I hit the ball very well in my singles match last Sunday but just didn’t hole the putts. I suppose that has been the story of the year for me even in my wins I haven’t putted all that well. When I won the Barclays I led the greens in regulation stat for the week. With this in mind and the fact that there is always a strong left to right wind blowing across the range in St. Andrews I have limited my practice to the bare necessities. I hit a few shots on Tuesday with Bob to make sure that everything was fine. Other than that I have spent a lot of time working on my putting. I have spent a year working on my stroke trying to perfect that and as a result I have lost the focus of trying to get the ball in the hole. So this week I have tried to work solely on focusing on my target and getting a good feel with the putter.
As regards practice rounds, I have played 2 of the three courses, St. Andrews and Kingsbarns. I played these because I hadn’t played the new tees in St. Andrews as I wasn’t at The Open so I wanted to see these and then Kingsbarns is a course that I felt would be more beneficial to play as it is a relatively new course and there is quite a bit of course knowledge involved in playing it. I played both of my rounds with some of the Irish amateurs that are playing, John Mahony, John Gleeson, Gerry O’Connor and Dermot Desmond. It was great to play with them as it meant that it was a little more light hearted than my normal practice round and it also gets me used to playing in the pro am format for tomorrow. Unfortunately it has blown a gale the two days I played so it is hard to say what the courses are playing like, certainly the new tees in St. Andrews make it much tougher especially in the wind that we played it in.
Of the three courses the toughest is definitely Carnoustie; it is the course that we all dread the most as it can play very tough. I am sure that everyone remembers the Open there when Paul Lawrie won it, the 18th was and still is one of the toughest holes you can play. There is a burren down the right of the tee and then it runs across the front of the green. There is definitely potential for a disaster on this hole. This is not the only tough hole out there but like all links courses it all depends on the weather as to how it plays.
Kingsbarns is the newest of the courses on the rota and probably the one that you would be least familiar with. This is a really good test, normally it can be one of the easier ones but that is because the par 5’s are normally reachable. However when I played it today it was playing very difficult. The par 5’s were no push overs and there were several par 4’s that we were hitting long irons to with strong cross winds. The 18th which is normally a 3 wood and an 8 or 9 iron was playing driver 3 wood today.
St. Andrews is a course that everybody is familiar with. The key around this course is to try and miss the bunkers and to hit your pace putts well as you are guaranteed to have several long putts as there are quite a few double greens. This is the course that we play on Sunday, its one that all the pros know very well. However that can be a bad thing as we all remember the bad things that have happened to people over the years. One thing is for sure nothing is set in stone until you are through the road hole, no. 17.
I am looking forward this event as it is one that I have won before and because I am playing with J.P. Our opposition is Graeme McDowell and Dermot Desmond so it will be a very easy going fourball. It is definitely easier to play with 3 friends than with players that you don’t really know. As for my chances this week, it is hard to say. I am happy with the way I am playing, although my putting could be a lot better and I would like to have more time to get used to playing in these strong winds again. But it starts tomorrow so hopefully I can give myself a chance come Sunday and see how it goes from there.
A solid week that could have been better and in the end could have been good enough to win. I was never really in contention but when I look back at the winning score and my final round I am a bit disappointed as I know that I could easily have finished on 9 under. However it was a good week and I left with a lot of positives. I am sure that there are a lot of players that left on Sunday disappointed with their finish and saying the same as me.
As I was saying in my preview, it is a week that I enjoy as it is a little more light hearted for the first part of the week and I was also playing with JP in the team event. As with the overall tournament, when I look back on the team event it is also a case of what could have been.
My first round was at Carnoustie. It is definitely the draw that you want to get as it can be the toughest of the three courses and also it is nearly an hours drive from St. Andrews which is where I was staying. As it turned out the course was playing relatively easy as the wind was not blowing that hard and they also played us of some forward tees. I started out fine with a straight forward par on my first hole, the 10th. I made a solid birdie 4 on the 12th after hitting the green with a seven iron after hitting a 3 wood from the tee. I was hitting the ball quite nicely but over the next few holes I left myself some work to do to save pars. I missed a few greens and had to make some good up and downs. One of my best saves came on the 18th, my 9th hole. I drove it in the fairway bunker and all I could do was lay it up short of the burn. It was left with 118 yard to the pin, straight down wind. I hit a lob wedge to 8 feet and managed to hole the putt to save par. My back nine brought more of the same; I hit some very good shots and then some poor ones due to mental mistakes. I made another birdie on the 5th hole after hitting a wedge to four feet. On the 6th, the par 5, playing into the wind, I hit the green with a drive and a three wood and then 3 putted for par. I finished my round on 2 under par, probably a fair result as I had made about 4 good putts for par but had also missed 3 or 4 good chances for birdies. I was a bit disappointed as the scoring was good around Carnoustie and I felt that I had let a chance go by, although the lead was only 5 under. In the team event we shot 64, 8 under, to be well up there only 3 shots behind. J.P. played nicely; he made a few pars where he had shots and two natural birdies with shots which were great for the team.
I played the Old Course on the Friday morning. As predicted it was a tough test as the new tees have really toughened the course up. I started poorly, bogeying the second and the fourth to go back to level par for the tournament. The par 5 fifth was reachable in two but I didn’t make it. I had an 80 yard pitch left for my third which I hit to 20 feet and luckily holed the putt. Holing that really helped as I went on to birdie the 6th and 7th to get me 3 under. From there in I didn’t drop another shot, which was tough going as the wind really got up in the afternoon, and managed to pick up another birdie on the par 5 14th to shot another 2 under par round and finish on 4 under. In the team event J.P. improved my score by 4 shots for us to finish on 14 under par. I was relatively happy with my score for the day as I had started off badly, my head was all over the place and I found it very hard to get into it from the start.
Again the wind was really blowing when we started. While it wasn’t that cold it was extremely windy. The early holes on this course were playing downwind so it was key to play these well and pick up a few shots. I played the first 7 holes in 2 under par which was just alright. I made my two birdies on the 3rd and the 6th, a par 5, and a drivable par 4. The 9th is also a par 5 and it was playing into the wind, I got my second shot up to the front edge of the green but a long way from the flag. I was coming over a big ridge and I three putted it to be out in 2 under. I birdied the reachable par 5 12th to go to 3 under for the day but handed the shot back straight away with a bogey on the par 3 13th. At this stage the wind was really blowing hard. On the 16th, a par 5, I hit as good a drive as I can and it only went 233 yards! I made pars on the 14th, 15th and 16th but on the long par 4 17th I missed the green with my three wood second and made bogey. This put me back to 1 under par for the day which is what I finished on. This left me on 5 under for the tournament and in a share of 7th place at the end of the days play. In the team event we finished with a 67 for a total of 19 under, 8 behind the leaders but in a share for 3rd place.
Final Round – St. Andrews
For the final round I was paired with Lee Westwood, Carlos Rodiles and, of course, J.P. as we had made the cut as a team. I felt going out that if I could shoot a good round that I could move right up the leader board. I started very well with a birdie on the first. However I bogeyed the 3rd and 4th. Both were bad bogeys’, the 4th was due to a three putt and on the 3rd I hit my approach “big” into a bunker and didn’t get up and down. Again I birdied the 5th and 7th to get back to 6 under par. The 9th hole was playing a little bit downwind so I decided to go for the green with a driver. I hit a good one and got it to the front edge and two putted so get to 7 under. However I immediately handed it back after I drove into the fairway bunkers on the 10th and then to make matters worse I three putted the 11th after hitting a good 5 iron onto the green. I managed to get one shot back on the 12th after I pitched it stone dead from 50 yards short of the green. I then birdied the 14th again to get me back to 7 under but I was never thinking that I was contention; I was just trying to push myself for a good finish. I was 7 under playing the 17th and when I looked at the leader board I was tied for 4th. I was in the left rough off my tee shot but only 134 yards from the front and 170 to the pin. I hit a punched 7 iron so as to try and run it up the green but as usual for me on this hole I pulled it a bit left and it ended up in the road hole bunker. I had gotten it up and down from here on Friday but there wasn’t to be a repeat I made bogey. On the last I hit a 3 wood to 20 feet. It was a nice shot and gave me a chance to finish on 8 under par but I couldn’t hole it and so finished on 7 under for the tournament. In the team we shot 66 to finish on 25 under par, just a few back. The problem for us was that we made a few bogeys between us, you can’t do that. I waited around for the last couple of holes to see how the guys got on; it was a great win by Monty. I felt sorry for Ferrie as it is never nice giving up a lead.
Overall I was a bit disappointed as I walked away knowing that I had a good chance to win the tournament but you can’t do that taking 5 bogies in your final round, not when you need to shoot a low score. Having said that it was also nice to get back into the swing of things. It has been a while since I felt that I could have won an event. I really enjoyed playing with J.P. for the week; it is always a pleasure to play with him. My finish moved me up to 30th in the Order of Merit as I had been struggling in Europe prior to this event. I have two more counting events, The American Express and the Volvo Masters, to try and get myself back up that list. I look forward to playing them as I feel that I am getting back to some kind of norm. Talk to you all soon!