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.
After missing the cut last week I traveled to Malaga for the weekend to take a break and relax. I came down to the course on Monday morning to do some practice and play the course but after about an hour of practice we were hit with torrential rain. This put paid to my plan of playing the course and in the end I did about two hours practice over the course of the day, in between the showers. However, I played the course on Tuesday to get accustomed to it again.
Wednesday was pro-am day and I was playing with three Irish guys. Again it was a messy day weather wise and we only got five holes played before we were called in due to lightning and rain. In the end the pro-am was reduced to nine holes, we shot 8 under for the nine and won the pro-am, a nice way to start the week. After the pro-am I spent some time practicing my half shots, as they will be vital this week as the ball is spinning so much on the greens.
I have tried hard not to over do it this week as it is definitely more important that I am mentally fresh for the week. It would be easy to over prepare, then be worn out come Thursday and end up having a flat week.
This is probably the most famous 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. The weather has meant that the course is exceptionally wet and as a result it means that it is much easier to hit the fairways than normal as the ball is not running. This definitely makes it easier for me as I feel more comfortable with the course when it is wet.
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, (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 taking a birdie but par is not a bad score.
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.
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 here as the green is quite narrow and there is practically no shot from the trees right or left. A good drive sets you up, a poor one and you are looking at any number.
The 17th is 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 shots easily but it all depends if it is worth it. This is a real risk reward hole and 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 so 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.
The main focus from the media this week has been the Order of Merit race, where as for me it is the tournament. I am here to try and win the tournament and let the Order of Merit look after itself. I hope that all the people involved in the race play well as it will help to spur me on. I am playing with Paul Casey on the first day and it is always nice to play with someone who is holing putts and playing well; it helps to lift your own game if your playing partner is playing well too.
As ever I am trying to get myself into contention for the back nine on Sunday. If I can do that then I will be happy.
Order of Merit
Padraig secured the 2006 Volvo Order of Merit title by a mere twenty thousand pounds with a last gasp round of two under par 69 at the season ending Volvo Masters. After a horror start of two bogies on his opening holes he looked dead and buried in the race to catch Paul Casey but in typical gritty fashion he clawed his way back with a display of chipping and putting straight from the top drawer. Even as he got up and down yet again on the 18th he still needed events out on the course to go his way. But as Valderrama played it's usual stern test, all the players struggled to cope with the course. Niclas Fasth bogied the 18th to fall out of a share for second and then Sergio Garcia failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker to also bogie the 18th. This left Padraig with his 30th second place finish on tour and by far the sweetest! He commented after that it was unusual for the runner up to be happier than the winner but for once this was the case. Padraig is the first Irishman to hold the title since Ronan Rafferty in 1989! Third round of one over par 72 was disappointing as Padraig got off to another good start and was two under par after thirteen holes. He then seemed to lose the speed of the greens and three bogies in a row ensused from puttable distances. He now finds himself four behind he leaders and in a tie for 13th place. But with two of his other Order of Merit opponants also in the mix, Sunday promises to be an exciting day! Fine second round of two under par 69 leaves Padraig in a tie for ninth place and still in the running for the Order of Merit title. Five birdies and three bogies made up his card on another difficult day with the wind gusting around the course. First round of two over par 73 for Padraig at the Volvo Masters. Two under through five holes he made four bogies in his last eleven holes on a course that is playing particularly difficult for this years event. Five under leads the tournament.
Padraigs Tour Diary...
I had my best ever finish in a tournament in Valderamma and as a result I am now European number one! It feels great saying it, to be honest it took a while to really sink in that I had managed to make up the difference and pass Paul Casey. To win the Order of Merit has always been one of my goals and to achieve it this year and the way that I did it feels fantastic. I went to the Volvo Masters hoping that come the Sunday I would still be in with a shout for the title and luckily I was and it fell in my favour.
As I was saying in my preview I have never performed that well in Valderamma and as a result I wasn’t too confident of making up the ground on Casey. From the start things seemed to happen for me. The fact that the course was wet was a definite advantage for me as I found it easier to play as a result. I am sure that others would say the same but it helped me a lot. The hardest thing for me all week was to remember that it wasn’t just about the Order of Merit, but I was also there to play in and try to win a golf tournament; this was hard to focus on as everyone wanted to talk about the Order of Merit title and what permutations there were to me winning it. I must admit that it was a big distraction as regards the event itself; however it was a nice distraction as it meant I had played well enough during the year to put myself into contention for the European number one spot.
The Volvo Masters
This course had not been too good to me over the years so I was never that confident. However this year I went with a different attitude and game plan for the week; my game plan for the week was not to wear myself out practicing and my attitude was one of acceptance of my game. I have been trying to get myself to do this at every event since the US Open, which worked well at the Dunhill.
On day one I was paired with Paul Casey in the last group as we were first and second in the Order of Merit. Paul was suffering from a touch of food poisoning, which he had to have an injection for on the 11th hole. Right from the start I was hitting good shots. I lipped out for a birdie after a lovely little nine iron to 9 feet on the 1st. I missed another good chance on the second but then made a good putt on the third for a birdie. Another birdie on the fifth got me to two under par and cruising along. Then I made my first bogey on the 8th hole, which must be one of the toughest short par fours in the game. I missed the fairway with my four iron and could only hack it into the greenside bunker with my second; from there I failed to get it up and down. This kind of stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t make another birdie in my round, only three more bogeys and the rest pars. I bogeyed the 12th after hitting my tee shot in the greenside bunker and then I three putted the 16th from forty feet and then on the 18th I pushed my drive into the trees right and couldn’t make the green. I finished with a round of two over par, 73; it was definitely the worst score that I could have shot as I really played well but putted terribly. 33 putts for the day was really a bad effort. It was not the start that I was looking for but there was nothing that I could do about it now.
The second round was very similar to the first round except that I holed a few more putts than the first round. Again I made two birdies in the early holes but then bogeyed the 6th, I hit a very good tee shot to six but it just got caught in the fringe and left me with a very tough putt, which I only touched and it went off the green. I got the shot back straightaway on the 7th hole when I holed a twenty footer for birdie. Over the rest of the holes I made two more bogeys and two more birdies. I bogeyed the 11th and the 13th and then birdied the 14th and the 17th. The bogey on the 11th was a result of a three putt and the bogey on the 13th was actually a very good bogey. I hit my tee shot left and could only hack it out. However I didn’t quite get it out and had to try and hook a nine iron to the green. I missed the green with my third and in the end made a very good chip and putt for a bogey. In the end I finished with a round of two under par for a two round total of level par, which got me back into the tournament and gave me good chance for the Order of Merit.
In the third round I was cruising along again, two more birdies in the first four holes and then all pars through the ninth got me out in two under and really in contention. Then from the middle of the fairway on the 10th hole I mishit my wedge, which came up short and rolled back 30 yards. I made a bogey here and it kind of killed my momentum, even though I birdied the 11th I wasn’t cruising along as I was. I parred the 12th and 13th holes but then made three bogeys in a row from the 14th; the annoying thing about these bogeys was that they were all from around the green. On the 14th I played a bad chip and left myself with a long putt for par and then on the next two holes I three putted them for bogeys. I ended up shooting one over par for a three round total of one over par which left me four shots behind the leader but in a tie for 12th position. I knew that it wasn’t an insurmountable total but I had let a lot of people get between me and the leader.
Warming up on Sunday there was funny atmosphere on the range, most people were talking about the Order of Merit race as opposed to the tournament; I suppose that it helped that all four of us that could win were still in contention. People were talking about the permutations again and also coming up and wishing me luck, which really felt funny. I was happier when I got to the 1st tee as it was really only myself and Ronan then as normal. The start I got off to definitely wasn’t the one that I had visualized, bogeys on the first two holes meant that I had to be a bit more aggressive than I had originally planned. It was hard to except the bogeys as I had actually played the holes well. On the 4th hole, the par five, I had been laying up all week but as I needed birdies I had to go for it; I hit a five wood pin high but just off the left to set up a birdie that was badly needed! Then on the next hole I hit my drive left and couldn’t reach the green, but in the end I made a great chip and putt to save par. This was to be a running theme throughout the rest of my round. Infact I played the rest of my round more like how I played when I first came out on Tour. I turned in 1 over par which put me two over for the tournament; over the back nine holes I made three birdies and no bogeys. I made a birdie on the 11th after pitching to four feet and then made good pars on the 12th and 13th after missing both greens; these kept me going nicely. Then on the 14th I made a long putt for a birdie to get me to level par for the tournament, however I looked like I was going to give it back on the 15th after I missed the green left with my tee shot, but again I made a great saving chip and putt. On the 16th I made another decent putt for another birdie, which got me to 1 under and right in the frame. Then I had probably one of the toughest par five in the game to play. I hit driver to try and get me as far down as I could and was left with a four iron to the green but the ball had a bit of mud on it. I felt that I had to go for it but the ball went straight left and into the water. This was not what I was hopping for but I had to regroup and try to make a par which I did by chipping to eight feet and holing the putt. This at least kept me in the frame. Down the 18th I pulled my three wood into the trees left and couldn’t get to the green. I hacked it out to 66 yards which was a lovely yardage for me. From here I hit a half lobber to four feet and holed to set up an exciting end to the season. I was told when I finished that I needed to finish no worse than second with two others for me to win the order of merit. It meant a waiting game for me!
I waited and watched the final six holes in the players lounge with Caroline and Paddy; I have to say that it felt awful. There was nothing I could do and I never like wishing for people to do badly. In the end it came down to Sergio on the last hole, if he made a par then Paul won and anything worse than par meant that I won. It was a tough way for it to be decided but I suppose it made for good viewing. He made a five, which meant that I was crowned number one. I felt sorry for Paul as it was unlucky the way that he lost it but I was delighted for myself. I had come to Valderamma and won my own tournament, it was probably the only time that finishing second was a win! My 30th second place brought me my first European number one spot. It was a great feeling and one that I hope that I will feel again.
Thank you for all you support during the season - it is greatly appreciated!