It’s the first of the end of season finales, The Volvo Masters in Valderrama. I play this week in Valderrama and next week in the Tour Championship in Atlanta, both these event signal the end of the year for their respective tours and as such, it generally means that most player’s years are coming to an end also. However there is still a lot to be played for, The Volvo Masters has a field of 55 this year, the top 60 on the Order of Merit qualify but not all have elected to play. As always with the final event of the year there are other things that people are playing for apart from the tournament, this year Colin Montgomerie is battling with Michael Campbell for the Order of Merit and everybody else is trying to improve their position by finishing well this week. For me it is a chance to improve on my current position of 33rd and also my last chance for a win in Europe on the 2005 schedule.
Historically this has not been a good venue for me, I have never performed well here in the Volvo Masters - my best finish in a tournament around this course was in the American Express when I finished in 5th place and even that was after a good final round. I have done well in this tournament but only when they moved it to Montecastillo in Jerez. It was there that I won and also finished second another year. I find Valderrama a tough course to play as the fairways are sloping and the greens are quite small. The wind tends to swirl around among the trees and so it suits the low ball hitters more so than those who tend to fly it higher. The course is always in pristine condition and this year is no exception, the greens and fairways are in perfect condition.
I have played one practice round this year as it is a course that I know very well. Tuesday was spent working with my coach, Bob, on a few things. He had noticed that I was standing to far away from the ball at address and so we worked on sorting that out for most of the day. It was very awkward as it felt totally unnatural to me but by the end of the day it was feeling much better. On top of this I spent quite a bit of time working on my putting, as I have been saying all year I haven’t been putting well and I haven’t been able to establish what the problem is. This week is no exception, I still don’t feel comfortable over some putts and as of yet I am not entirely sure why. I have spent hours upon hours this year trying to solve but so far it hasn’t worked. Hopefully this is the week I solve it!!!
This is probably the most well-known European course that we play on all year. All golfers feel that they know it, as they have seen so many events held here over the years. I suppose the two most famous things about Valderrama are the 17th hole and the condition of the course. As I was saying earlier, this year is no exception as the course is fantastic condition again.
Everybody knows the 17th hole but this is only one of 18 tough holes! With its narrow fairways and small greens this is as tough a course as you will play. If you miss a fairway it is very tricky coming into the greens from the rough. However, I feel that the last 5 holes are the key holes on the course.
The 14th, while it measures only 370 yards it is far from an easy hole. The second shot is straight uphill and it plays 10 yards uphill. The fairway slopes heavily from right to left and the green is narrow. Coming off the fairway this is a tough second shot but from the rough it is extremely difficult. It’s a hole that you feel you should be making birdie but par is not a bad score here.
The 15th is a long par 3, 226 yards, which plays downhill and is in the most exposed part of the course. Invariably it is windy when playing this hole. It is vital that you find the green here with your long iron as it is a very tricky green to chip and putt on. Again par is a good score here.
The 16th, a 422 yard par 4 doglegging right. This hole has caused me no end of trouble over the years. I have run up several doubles and triples here. It is important to hit the fairway as the green is quite narrow and there is practically no shot from the trees right or left. A good drive sets you up here, a poor one and you are looking at any number.
The 17th, the most famous of all the holes on the course. At 536 yards this is not a long par 5 any more. The difficulty here is the water in the front of the green and the fact that the green is so narrow. Even with a lob wedge the green looks like a small target as it slopes towards the water. It can be reached in two easily but it all depends if it is worth it. This is a real risk-reward hole. This will be a key hole all week. No doubt somebody will perish here.
The 18th is a tough par 4, it measures over 450 yards but the toughest part about it is how tight it is for the tee shot. The driving area is no more than 15 yards wide. The trees overhang this fairway some much that it is very important that you hit the right area of fairway let alone just the fairway. For me these are the key holes, whoever plays these well will have a good week.
I am playing with Lee Westwood on Thursday (12pm / 11 am Irish time); it’s a nice draw as Lee is always good to play with. As for my chances this week, I wouldn’t be to optimistic as I have spent a lot of time trying to sort out my set up and my putting is not great, so I certainly wouldn’t be backing myself but then you never know what can happen.
I think this was my best performance in the Volvo Masters around Valderrama; I finished in a tie for 10th place. Which based on my previous performances is a big improvement. As it turns out, one hole cost me a really good finish but then most of the field could probably say much the same. The nature of this course is that there is a disaster waiting on every hole and in case it was one hole that normally produces one, the 17th.
Rounds 1 & 2
In round one I was paired with Lee Westwood as we were lying 33rd and 32nd in the order of merit. I started fine with three pars and then a birdie on the par 5 fourth. I went for the green with a 5 wood but missed it left and managed to chip and putt for a birdie. On the 5th hole I hit a wedge approach and then 3 putted for a bogey, which started a bad run for me. The 6th hole is a tough par 3, the main thing about it is that you can’t go long. It was windy and I hit a punch shot with a 6 iron but the wind didn’t affect it and it went into the back bunker. I ended up having to hole a 4 footer for a bogey. I made two more bogies on the front nine to be out in 3 over par and feeling like nothing ever changes for me around this course. But the back nine was a bit better; I birdied the 10th and the 11th, to get back to 1 over. A bogey on the 13th and pars until the 18th meant that I was 2 over playing the last. I hit a 3 wood down the fairway and then a 7 iron to 15 feet. I holed the putt to finish with a 72, 1 over par. I was happy with the score, I knew it could have been better but it also could have been much worse.
I was lying about middle of the field after my first round. Going out in the second round I was hoping for sub par round as I knew that anything under par would move me up the leader board. I started fine again making par on the first and then a birdie on the second. I parred everything to the 7th where I took a bogey to go back to level for the day. I managed to birdie the 8th and then bogied the ninth to be out in level par. I birdied the 11th for the second day and then parred everything to the 17th. At one under par for the day standing on the 17th I was in good position and I was thinking that a birdie-par finish would move me right up into contention I pulled my drive into the fairway bunker, from here I was laying up with an 8 iron. I hit it straight left into the water from here; but I don’t know what happened for it to go straight left. I dropped it out of the water and had 105 yards left, the pin was just 5 yards on, I was hitting sand wedge and trying to hit it close - I hit it as I wanted but it spun back into the water, the fatal error! It meant that I had to drop another one, which I put just over the back and then took three more to get down for a 9!! A par down the last left me with a 74, I was really disappointed when I got in as I had managed to get myself back into it and then I just threw it away.
After the disappointment of Friday, I was well back down the field. Going out on Saturday I was trying to pull myself back up and have a good finish. I parred everything on the front nine bar the 3rd which I birdied. The back nine started better with birdies on the 10th and the 11th to get me to 3 under par. I bogied the 13th and two more birdies on the 14th and the 17th meant that I was back to level par for the tournament. I had made a 7 shot improvement from Friday and most of those shots came on the 17th!
On Sunday I was 10 shots behind the leaders going out. I was just thinking about a good score to give myself a good finish. I birdied the 1st and 6th on the front nine and made two good pars on the 3rd and 7th. On the 7th I pitched and putted from 20 yards short. I stalled a bit around the turn after missing a 5 footer for birdie on the 9th and a shorter one on the 11th for birdie. I made another good pitch and putt par on the 13th and pars on 14 and 15. I birdied the 16th after hitting a wedge to 6 feet and then followed it up with another birdie on the 17th after holing a 12 footer. This put me 4 under for the day and for the tournament, then down the last I hit a 6 iron to 6 feet behind the hole. When I was finishing I thought that if I could hole it I would have a chance of a top 5 finish as everyone was dropping shots. I hit a really good putt but unfortunately it just slipped by the edge. Another 67 - I was happy with that and even happier when I saw that Paul was leading.
I decided that as Paul was leading and looking really good that I would wait until he was finished before I would head home. I was supposed to go straight after I finished but I wanted to stay around to congratulate Paul if he won. I watched him play his way in on the television and then went down to congratulate him when he finished. He had played brilliantly and fully deserved his win. The birdie on the 17th under the pressure he was under was super. The win was exactly what he deserved after the season that he has had. It was fantastic and I am really delighted for him.
As for my performances, I was happy with a lot of things. I putted the best I have all year and the work I did with Bob earlier in the week paid off as I was swinging it much better by the end of the week. I probably did too much practice and didn’t focus enough on my scoring but, all in all, it was a good week and I was happy with my finish, but it could have been better but for one hole. It gives me a good bit of confidence heading into my last few events of the year. Hopefully it will all click in one of the coming weeks. Talk to you all soon!