It is only just over a week since I was crowned the European number one and I am now back in Shanghai for the start of the 2007 schedule. This is the second staging of the HSBC Champions Tournament and it has attracted an even better field this year than last, which is evidence that it is growing as a tournament.
It is strange this week as everyone is congratulating me on winning the Order of Merit yet we are here playing for next years’ title and I have only had a week to enjoy it; I definitely would have liked another couple of weeks!
Last week I took it very easy and tried to savour my success from Valderamma, I hit some shots but not many and played one game at the K Club on Friday. I traveled out here on Sunday afternoon which got me to the course on Monday morning; it was a long enough flight down from London, about twelve hours. I spent Monday taking it easy and trying to get rid of the jet lag. By Tuesday morning I was feeling a good bit better and was looking forward to playing.
On Tuesday I went to the range in the morning to knock the cobwebs off me. I was definitely still a little slow and jaded but it wasn’t too bad. I spent about an hour hitting shots and then spent some time practicing my short game. After this I went out to play the course on my own. I played fifteen holes in practice on Tuesday. It went alright but I was happy that it wasn’t the first day as I was still tired and was looking forward to getting some more sleep.
On Wednesday we had the weekly pro-am. As I am always saying, the pro-am is a big part of my preparation as it gets me into tournament mode. You are trying to make lots of birdies so as to help your partners out and you are not too worried about the bogeys. It was good to play the course in a semi competitive situation as opposed to a practice round. After the pro-am I practiced my putting for about twenty minutes as I was struggling with it a bit on the course. The practice definitely helped it but I won’t be sure how much until tomorrow!
This is our second time playing this tournament and as a result only our second time on this course which was only opened in October 2004. The course is playing much different to last year as the conditions are totally different. For starters the weather is much better this year and as a result the course is much firmer and in my view much tougher. It is really hard to get the ball to stop on the greens, which means that it will suit the longer hitters’ as they will be hitting shorter irons into the greens. At 7,150 yards it is a reasonable length course. It definitely suits the longer hitter as there are a lot of bunkers and trouble around the 290-300 yard mark off the tee. They have got the course in great condition for the event this year which is great as last year it was it not as good and the weather was terrible. The toughest thing about this course is the fact that there is water on 11 of the18 holes and they want to add more! 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, 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 is ending up in the water, a tough hole 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. There is the possibility of having a great finish as there are 2 reachable holes in the last three but 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.
Even though I would like to be sitting at home enjoying my win I will be trying my hardest to get off to the best possible start to defend my title. As the course is playing so different to last year I feel that it is irrelevant about how you performed last year. I certainly can’t see twenty under being the winning score. The key for me is to remain patient and try to take my chances when they come along. As ever I am trying to get myself into contention for the final few holes on Sunday and then see how it goes from there.
I am playing with Michael Campbell and Lang Wie Zhang for the first two days at 9.55am and 10.55am ( 1.55 and 2.55 am Irish time).