I am in Shanghai for the HSBC Champions. I only arrived on Tuesday afternoon, so I didn’t get to play the course until Wednesday in the Pro-am. This is a new event on the European Tour and it has drawn a really good field; both Tiger and Vijay are competing along with most of the big names of the European tour.
As I only arrived on Tuesday afternoon, it was too late to play the course and so I decided to go to the range to try and knock the jet lag out of me. I spent about an hour and a half hitting shots. Most of my time I spent hitting wedges as it was evident to me from last week that you just can’t practice your wedge play enough. I finished of with a bit of bunker practice and putting. It was a light enough session but exactly what I needed after all that flying!
Wednesday was Pro-am day and my first sighting of the course. I did a small amount of practice before we went out, again a lot of wedge play and some bunker shots and pitching. The Pro-am went well; it was obviously hard to play competitively as I wasn’t really sure where I was going. But I got a good look at the course and again it helped to get rid of the rustiness.
Sheshan is a new course, only opened in October 2004 but it is well capable of holding a big event like this. It looks as if it is around a lot longer than it has and has some very good holes. When we played it on Wednesday the air was very heavy and the ball just wasn’t traveling any distance, which on a 7,150 yard course it is quite tough as you end up hitting a lot of the longer clubs. The course definitely suits the longer hitter as the fairways are generous enough and the greens are receptive. Having said that the rough can be tough in certain areas and you have water hazards on 11 of the 18 holes too.
The feature holes of the course are the 16th and 17th. They are built around a water filled quarry. The 16th is a short par 4 - it is only 270 yards to the front of the green but with no room right and several bunkers it could be a nasty little hole - watch out for this one to play a big part in who wins this week. The 17th is a 200 yard par 3 that comes down the opposite side of the quarry. Anything right here ends up in the water a tough one to have so late in the round.
The 18th is a par 5, measuring 538 yards. There is water all down the right side from the tee and fairway and then in front of the green as well. It is reachable in two off a good drive but with so much water around it will take two good shots. These three holes could make or break your round, but there is the possibility of having a great finish as they are two reachable holes in the last three, however there is a lot of risk involved. There could be some great excitement over these holes on Sunday afternoon.
It is a good course that has low scores in it if you hit the ball well and set yourself up. It looks like a course that you should be shooting good scores on but if you try to over power it you can easily make a mess.
It is a big event for the opening of our 2006 European Tour schedule and as always I will be trying hard. I feel the key to me having a good week here is to patient and keep working on my wedge play and my short game. If I can drive the ball as I did over the weekend in Atlanta then I will be giving myself enough opportunities to set up some birdies. It is a strong field this week, but then every week is a strong field and the eventual winner is always the guy that has played the best throughout the week. I am happy with how I played last weekend I feel that I made some good progress. If I can play as I did at the weekend then I feel that I will have a good chance. I am playing with Michael Campbell and K.J. Choi for the first two days at 9.40am and 10.40am ( 1.40 and 2.40 am Irish time).
What a week! I would definitely say that it was the worst I have hit the ball for a long time. I had no idea where it was going and I had no power, which certainly made it tough! I came here off the back of playing solid in the Tour Championship and was reasonably confident, but for some reason my game just left me. I played in the Pro-am on Wednesday and felt like I had no power in my swing but I just put it down to jet lag and assumed that it would be fine come Thursday, as I would have the adrenalin of the tournament to get me going. However it was no different on Thursday.
While I scored reasonably in the first round, I played poorly. I was swinging it badly and hitting it nowhere. Even still I managed to make 4 birdies and 1 bogey for a 69. It didn’t feel like a good score as the scoring was very good, there were a number of players on 8 under and then a couple on 7 under. I was tied for 22nd after the round and trailing by 5. I had shot 3 under but I had failed to score on the par 5’s, only playing them in level par. I birdied the first one, the 2nd, by getting up and down from the greenside bunker. This was my only birdie on them. I parred the out-of-reach 8th and the reachable 18th, however the worst of the par 5’s for me was the 14th; it was easily within reach in two but I hit a poor drive into the fairway bunker. On my lay up I pulled my 5 iron into the trees on the left from where I could only hack it out sideways. I hit a wedge to 12 feet and failed to hole the putt for par. It was a very disappointing bogey as I was 3 under at that stage and was thinking that a good last 5 holes would move me right up the leaderboard.
I practiced for a while after my first round to try and figure out why I was hitting the ball so badly and weak but I couldn’t work it out. I had to play the second round with the same problems. I didn’t scramble as well as in the first round and as a result I ended up shooting a level par 72. I played really badly making only 1 birdie, 1 eagle and 3 bogeys. I birdied the second hole again, up and downing it from the back bunker, then a bogey on the par 3 4th put me back to level par. I missed the green on the right and hit a bad chip shot and then missed the putt. After this I parred everything until the 14th hole, the par 5 I bogeyed the first day. Today I hit a good drive and was within reach of the green in two with a 3 wood. I hit it just through the green and was left with a tough chip shot so I decided that it would be better to putt it. I hit a really nice putt, a good 35 feet away, and it went right in the middle for an eagle to put me 2 under for the day. The way I was playing it was outrageous for me to be 2 under but I wasn’t complaining! Unfortunately I hit a terrible second shot on the 15th with a 7 iron and ended up making a bogey. Then on the 16th, the driveable par 4, I hit a three wood and nearly missed it but got lucky and it stayed out of the hazard. I was left with 40 yards, which I pitched to 10 feet and then missed the putt, a disappointing par. Then to really annoy me I three putted the 17th for a bogey and failed to make a birdie on the last hole to finish on level par and three under for the tournament. Level par pushed me back down the field and left me a lot a work to do to catch up. The way that I was playing it was looking like a real uphill battle.
The 3rd round was definitely the worst I have played yet. No matter what I tried I couldn’t figure out why I was hitting it so badly. I couldn’t make anything happen, making 2 bogeys in the first 12 holes to be 2 over for the round. I bogeyed the 4th again and the 9th and parred everything else, making some good up-and-downs to save pars. Then on the 13th I made my first birdie of the day after hitting a 9 iron to 6 feet, which gave me a bit of hope. However a bad drive on the 14th put the green out of reach and I wasn’t able to make a birdie, but I did make one on the 15th to get me back to level par for the round. Standing on the 16th I was thinking that if I could finish well I could get myself to 5 under - I went for the green on 16 with driver but pushed it into the hazard. I had to take a drop and I wasn’t able to get it up and down for a par. I parred the 17th and then hit a 9 iron to 6 feet on the last and managed to hole the putt to shot 72, level par. I came of the course in two minds, I knew that I had done well in shooting 72 the way that I had played but I felt that I had let a couple of shots slip on the 16th and with it an opportunity to move up the leaderboard. I was amazed to find out when I came in that my round had infact moved me up 9 places. Hard to believe!
The last Round
The last round was going very much like the third round on the front nine. I made one birdie and one bogey to be out in level par and was playing dreadful. Nothing felt good; I had even lost confidence in my wedge play. On the 8th hole, the long par 5 I had layed up to 107 yards for my third shot, it was playing into the wind and so it was a perfect smooth wedge. Normally this is a very basic shot for me that I am nearly thinking about holing but today I was hoping not to catch it fat, which I did and I managed to hit it 80 yards! But at least I managed to get it up and down for par. The back nine was better and I hit a few better shots, on the 11th I hit a 6 iron to 2 feet for a birdie, I parred the 12th and then we were put on the clock on the 13th and I made a bogey due to rushing. I then hit two good shots to the 14th to set up another birdie. This set up a grandstand finish - a wedge on the 15th finish 4 feet from the hole for another birdie, then I drove it to just short of the green on 16 and chipped and putted for a birdie. A 6 iron to 17th set up a two putt par and left me 6 under for the tournament playing the last. Down 18 I hit a nice drive up the right edge of the fairway and then a 5 iron to the left edge of the green; from here I two putted for my 4th birdie in 5 holes to finish on 7 under and a tie for 15th place. I was thinking about it after my final round and I couldn’t figure out how I managed to finish on 7 under par considering the way I played all week. It wasn’t as if I did anything that well; I drove it badly, didn’t hit my irons close and worst of all I hit my wedges terrible. I think I managed to get one wedge up and down all week. So to walk away 15th from this event was some achievement. I am disappointed to have come all this way to such a big event and play so poorly but I am also happy with myself that I battled away and put in a decent performance considering how I played. From here I head to Portugal for the World Cup with Paul McGinley. I will see Bob Torrance, my coach, for a while on Tuesday and I know that after 5 minutes with him he will be able to tell me exactly what I am doing wrong.
Talk to you alll soon!