This week marks the end of the season for the PGA Tour and we are at the East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta , for the Tour Championship. The top 30 on the order of merit qualify for this season ending tournament. I am currently lying 12th on the order of merit, helped mainly from my two wins. It is my second year playing in this event. Last year was my first; I wasn’t a full member of the tour but qualified as I had made enough money to be within the top 30 and I had decided to take my card for this year. Last year I played solidly in 3 rounds and poorly in the second round - rounds of 69, 75, 68 and 68 left me on level par and in 14th position.
I have played 27 holes practice this week, 18 of them were in the Pro-am on Tuesday and then 9 holes on Wednesday on my own. I haven’t done too much this week as I didn’t arrive until Monday evening and I didn’t want to tire myself out. After all the practice I did on my swing last week I have spent my time hitting shots, trying to get myself into the right frame of mind. I haven’t been thinking about anything technical on the practice ground, just trying to get myself more focused on my target and practicing my routines. I have also hit quite a few wedges as they were not up to scratch last week. I put that down to all the technical practice I did in Valderrama. I have also continued to work on my putting; last week was my best putting week of the year so I have continued with the work I did last week. I went back to rolling the ball as opposed to hitting them firmer - it was definitely a success last week as I finished the week with a total of 100 putts for the 4 rounds.
East Lake Golf Club is the home of the legendary Bobby Jones and now the permanent home of the Tour Championship, which it has held on 4 previous occasions. At 7,153 yards, it is a long par 70 and plays even longer as nearly every hole has some elevation changes. It is an unusual course in that we hit a lot of drivers here. For instance last week in Valderrama I hit driver three times in each round whereas this week, I will probably hit 12 drivers. The rough around the fairways is quite heavy (I have been told that it was heavier last week but that frost has killed it of) and so it puts a premium on hitting the fairways. They have also lengthened a couple of holes since last year - the 5th has been extended from a 480 yard par 4 to a 520 yard par 4 and the par five 9th has had another 20 yards added to it.
There are 18 good holes on this course but some of the ones to look out for are the:
5th This is the first of the holes that have been lengthened from last year. It will play 520 yards this year (but still a par 4 hole) but it is all downhill, the important thing here is to hit the fairway as it is a long iron approach shot. Anything in the rough from the tee makes it hard to make par.
9th This is the first of the two par fives on the course; again it plays downhill and is reachable in two. Like the 5th it is imperative that you hit the fairway here if you want to get up in two shots. In practice I have hit the green with a 5 wood but if you have to lay it up it is not an easy birdie as the green is protected with a bunker all down the right side and is sheltered by some trees, so it is hard to judge the distance for your pitch.
15th The second par five on the course. This hole is a good birdie chance and even a reasonable eagle opportunity if you hit a good drive. It only measures 495 yards but it plays 13 yards uphill for the second shot. The drive is the awkward part here as it is a dog leg right and the fairway is protected by two fairway bunkers. If you hit the fairway you are really looking at a four, if not, it is a tough four. As there is only two par fives you feel that you have to make up shots on them when you come to them and as a result you can often walk away disappointed.
18th The final hole here is a par 3, which is unusual for a championship course. It measures 235 yards and tends to play into the wind. In practice I have been hitting my utility club to it. As a final hole it has the ability to decide the event and is a hole that you could birdie as easily as make a bogey, so it may well cause some excitement come the end of the week. I would gladly take 4 pars here and be happy!
I am happy with how everything is going so far this week. I feel that I made some real good progress last week especially with my putting, however I am still not 100% happy with everything. As always I would like to have some additional time to do some more work on certain areas of my game. Having said that I am never really overly confident expectations for the week, I am not sure what they are. It is the final PGA tour event for the year so I would like to finish on a high note. I like the golf course and am happy with my game, while not overly confident. All I can ask is that I get myself into contention come Sunday and then see how things go for me. I guess I will just have to wait and see.
All in all it was a fairly good week; I started poorly and came back over the final three rounds. It could have been better as I felt that I missed several chances throughout the week. However I felt that I did a number of things well during the week and they helped me to finish as I did. This tournament rapped up my first season as a full tour card holder on the PGA Tour, I was 12th on the order of merit coming into the event and finished 14th for the year. Again like a lot of my tournaments it cold have been a lot better - the highlights were off course the wins in Honda and The Barclays but there were a lot of missed cuts in there as well. This was my second Tour Championship and it definitely helped that I had played in it last year as it was on the same course. It is amazing how much you remember from playing a course before. This year I shot rounds of 71, 66, 68 and 69 to finish on 6 under, an improvement of 6 shots over last year.
Rounds 1 & 2
Comparing the first two rounds, while very different scores, they were similar in some respects. In round one I had four bogeys and three birdies for 1 over par. I bogeyed the first and the third and birdied the fourth and ninth to be out in level par. My back nine was similar with a bogey on the 10th and the 13th and then a birdie on the 17th. The main problem that I had was my driving - I only hit 50% of the fairways and on this course it can be very hard to make pars if you are not hitting the fairways, as the semi rough is not too bad but the rough was very penal in certain areas. It seemed that every time I missed a fairway I got a bad lie and struggled to get the ball back into position. Having said that I still had a chance coming in to make a score. I missed from 6 feet on the par 5 15th for birdie and from 12 feet on the 16th. I birdied the 17th after holing a 20 footer and then I had a half chance on the 18th that I missed. It was a disappointing round as I knew that I could have done much better, even over the last few holes alone but also for the whole round. In round two I made a big improvement score wise but I still wasn’t happy with how I hit it off the tee. Funnily enough this was the day that I hit the most fairways! A lot of my drives were “slapped” but luckily they went straight. I bogeyed the first hole again to go to 2 over for the tournament but after that I had no more bogeys. I had 3 birdies on the front nine and 2 more on the back; again I felt like I had missed a few chances but at least I had managed to get myself back into the tournament. As with the first round when I was on the fairway I was dangerous; in round 1 I hit 67% of greens in regulation and in round 2 I hit 72%. All year I have been happy with my iron play but I haven’t been confident off the tee and it was no different here. What I also did well in this round was scramble well, I made 2 really good up and downs from near dead positions. The first one was from over the back of the 13th - the pin was back right and the green was running away from me. I hit a flop shot to 2 feet to save my par at an important time. Then on the 15th, the par 5 I had missed the green left with the pin tight to the left, again I hit a flop shot and managed to get it to 5 feet to set up another birdie.
Rounds 3 & 4
After getting myself into the event again I was hopeful for the weekend. I played with Luke Donald on Saturday; we both started on 3 under par. I started with a birdie, pushing my drive right and then hit an 8 iron which I nearly holed. It was nice way to start, but unfortunately I couldn’t keep it going. I hit close on the 2nd and 3rd but couldn’t hole the putts. On the 6th, the par 3, I hit a smooth 9 iron to 40 feet and then 3 putted for a bogey, but managed to get the shot back on the 8th after a good approach shot to 5 feet. I played the remainder of the holes in 1 under, 2 birdies and 1 bogey, to shoot 68 and leave me on 5 under for the tournament. As with all my rounds it could have been much better as I had missed chances but at least I was moving in the right direction now. I finished in a tie for 8th place after round 3. Even tough I felt that I drove the ball better in this round I still only hit 50% of the fairways but my misses weren’t as bad. Again I hit a high percentage of greens in regulation, 83%.
Going out in the final round, I felt that I was too far back to win but I knew that a good round would move me right up there. I was looking to make a few birdies and limit the mistakes; however that wasn’t quite how it went. I did make 5 birdies in the round but the problem was that I also made 4 bogeys. My first two bogeys came on the 4th and 5th, both coming as a result of driving it in the rough and not being able to reach the green in regulation. I managed to birdie the 7th and 8th, both after good approach shots to get me back to level par for the day. Disappointingly though I didn’t birdie the par 5 9th from the greenside bunker. Then on the 10th I made another bogey, an unlucky one as I hit a really nice 6 iron for my second which hit the green and released to the back of it into a position where I had nearly an impossible putt. I hit what I thought was a good putt and ended up 12 feet away and then missed that one. After this I hit it stiff on the 12th for birdie and chipped it stiff for a birdie on the 15th. I parred the 16th and then on 17 I hit a nice wedge from the rough that came up just shot of the green and got stuck in the rough. It was an awkward chip shot but I hit it perfect and I holed it to put me at 7 under. The last hole was playing 235 yards with a slight cross wind. I hit my utility club but pulled it left; not where I wanted to miss it with the pin on the left. I was up against the hospitality tents and had to take a drop, and had to play a flop shot. I hit it nicely but it came up just short, still in a tough position. I played a shot just like I had played on the 17th and for a long time I thought that I had got the same result but it just missed on the right. It put me back to 6 under and a tie for 7th place. A disappointing way to finish especially as it cost me some significant world ranking points.
All in all it wasn’t a bad week. I know that I could have done a lot better but considering how I was feeling the first couple of days off the tee I feel that I did quite well. By the end of the week I was getting some confidence back in my driving. After looking at my stats I can see why I finished well here - I hit 75% of greens in regulation and most importantly I got 7 out of 9 wedges up and down. This was a huge help. I am definitely leaving here with more confidence than I brought so that is always a good thing and I am really looking forward to next weeks HSBC Champions event in China and the following week at the World Cup in Portugal.