My Winter Break
As I have been saying my winter break has been much shorter than normal. My last event was Tiger’s tournament, which finished on 18th December. I then went to Las Vegas for Ronan’s stag; I have also had a family holiday in Dubai last week so, all in all, I haven’t been at home much. I have managed to fit quite a bit of practice in during my four weeks though. I am very happy with the way it went; the few things that I wanted to work on have come on nicely. As usual I haven’t played very much golf during my break; I played in Vegas but I was only allowed to use one club and then I played one game with brother, Tadhg, before I left for Dubai and then one game in Dubai. It’s probably more than I have ever played, but it’s not much. Even though it has only been four weeks since I last played an event I can definitely feel that I am a bit rusty. There is no doubt that technical practice blunts my scoring ability, as I always find it hard to get focused on my target and leave my technical practice behind me in my first few weeks back.
My Practice this week
I arrived in Abu Dhabi on Sunday after being in Dubai on a holiday and doing some practice. As I haven’t played this course before I wanted to give myself plenty of time to have a look at it. I have played 45 holes in practice, 9 on Monday and then 18 on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Monday I spent quite a bit of time trying out the new irons and driver that Wilson have for the year. I have to say that I am very happy with them. I probably won’t use the irons this week as there are a couple of things that need adjusting on them, but the driver has been going very well in practice and I will use it this week.
On Tuesday I played the full course for the first time and played with Peter Lawrie and Damien McGrane. It was great to play with the lads as it was just like old times when we were all playing the amateur tournaments at home, always with a bit of banter and friendly slagging! Unfortunately for Peter and I we ended up losing the money to Damien so he gets to gloat until we can get some revenge! It was my first real look at the course and I must admit that it is very good. It has a great mix of tough holes and ones that are birdeable, but it certainly isn’t easy. The biggest defence that this course has is the wind, as it gets very windy in the afternoon, which makes the course play much harder than during the morning.
I have been trying to get myself to forget about my swing and what I have been working on over the last few weeks, and get back into scoring mode and to get my mind sharp, but it has been very tough. As always the first week back is the worst, as I always find myself stuck between my practice and trying to get into tournament mode. This week has been no different, I feel rusty and a little uneasy on the course; but normally, as each round goes by, this disappears. Other than this I have been happy with my practice. I am hitting the ball nicely and feel quite comfortable with my swing. Wednesday as normal was Pro-am day; it was wet and windy day which is totally unusual for here. I played nicely and held a few putts but then you always do on pro-am days!
This is a par 72 that measures over 7,400 yards. They lengthened the course after last year because some of the holes were driveable and they wanted to toughen it up. As far as I can see they have certainly managed to do that. There are plenty of good par fours that you can easily make a mess of, and the par fives are reachable, but again there is danger waiting on them if you are out of position. One of the main features of this course is the fact that it tends to play a couple of shots tougher in the afternoon than it does in the morning due to the wind. Most of the low scoring is done in the morning, whilst you are trying to shoot a reasonable score in the afternoon.
The par fives will be key to scoring well this week are they are all reachable for the bigger hitters, however there is trouble lurking on them if you get out of position. Some have water strategically placed and they all have the waste areas that we are used to seeing on these desert courses. For me the 9th, 17th and 18th will be key holes this week.
The 9th is a 454 yard par four with water down the left off the tee, it doesn’t look like it really comes into play but anything going left will end up in it and down the right there are trees, waste bunkers and then some more water. Other guys may consider this an easy hole but for me it is a good par four. You are left with about a six iron for your second to a big green.
The 17th is over water from the tee, it measures 470 yards and normally plays into the wind, which means that it will feel like a par five. There is a bunker on the left off the tee and then water on the right; the key is to get a good drive away. You are left with a long to medium iron for your second; it is not an easy par if you need one on Sunday!
The 18th is a par five that is reachable for the bigger hitters. Again you are driving over water and it has a bunker up the left to catch an errant drive. It takes a good drive to get yourself in position to go for the green in two, but if you are pushing then it is very easy to make a mess of this hole. Come Sunday I can see a few people throwing away shots here by trying to force something out of the hole.
It is the start of a new season for me and as always I make out my goals for the year, but I keep them to myself. With regard to this week I have limited expectations as it is my first event for a while and I know that I will be rusty. I am going out tomorrow to try and go through my routines and get focused on every shot. If I can do that then I will be happy and I would be confident to say that if I managed that I would have shot a decent score. The first day of a new season is always a bit nerve racking, as you are never sure what to expect. Hopefully I can get myself into contention come Sunday afternoon and see how everything has gone, as you never really know how you will play until you are put under pressure.
I am drawn with Robert Karllsson and Jeev Mika Singh for the first two rounds; we are late/early, 12pm on Thursday (8am Irish time) and 7.45am (3.45am) on Friday.
Padraigs Tour Diary...
My first week back in competition went much better than I expected it to. Unfortunately the way it finished was very disappointing as I had a very good chance to win the tournament. However when I came out here at the start of the week I was never really thinking that I would get myself into contention. I was here to play and do as well as I could but I wasn’t thinking that I would do quite so well in the first three rounds. The good thing about getting myself into contention on Sunday was that it gave me a really good test, which I would say I failed. I say this, as my problem on Sunday was not my golf game but my mental game; this was always going to be a problem as I find it very hard to come out after a break and be on top of my mental game. It is something that takes me a few weeks to build up. The more I get myself into pressure situations early on in the season the better it will get so, as a result, this week has been a very positive week for me.
I arrived in Abu Dhabi with the intention of using the new irons and driver that Wilson have made for me this year. I used them in practice on Monday and Tuesday - I really liked them and found it easy to change over to them. The only thing with my irons was that I needed to get a couple of the lies tweaked as they sit a little different to my old set. As we weren’t able to get them done properly out there I decided against using them for the tournament but I did decide to use the new driver as I was hitting it very well in practice. During the tournament I was very happy with it, found it very easy to hit and felt that it went longer and straighter than the driver I was using last year. I also hit it few times off the fairway and found it very simple to get up in the air. In fact I was even trying to keep it down which is hard to believe when you are hitting a driver off the deck.
All in all I am very happy with the new equipment; I will have the irons in my bag for my next tournament, the AT&T. If I am as good as the new equipment then everything will be fine!
As I was saying, when coming out here for this tournament I had very little expectation. The first event of the year is always a bit of an unknown entity for me as I have usually done quite a bit of practice in my off season and so I find it hard to go from practice mode to tournament mode. This week was a little different than normal, the main reason for which was the fact that my winter break was a few weeks shorter than normal. It was only four weeks this year as opposed to nine weeks and so the amount of practice that I had done was not as much as normal and also it wasn’t that long since I had played an event. However saying that I was still thinking about my swing and the few small changes that I had worked on when I was on the course. I find it very hard to have swing thoughts in my head when I am trying to play golf seriously. When I am in a tournament I want to have nothing in my head over the ball except for my target. When I get like this I tend to play, and also perform well.
The first three rounds went well for me in the sense that I shot good scores and managed to get myself into the lead. I shot rounds of 68, 67, 68 to be 13 under par and leading by one shot. In these rounds I tended to come off the course thinking that it should have been better as I gave myself a lot of chances but just didn’t convert enough of them, I wasn’t putting badly it was just that I gave myself a lot of chances in the 10 to 20 feet range. In the first three rounds I made 18 birdies and 5 bogies. The bogies tended to come from poor concentration which was what I expected. I found that I played very well in terms of how I hit the ball but that I made quite a few mental errors. However as I wasn’t really under any pressure it didn’t feel too bad. When you are not under pressure you don’t really notice what areas are letting you down. You have to be pressed and feel under pressure to really get a good idea of where you are at. For me this came in the final round.
I started the final round one shot in the lead but with a lot of players chasing me. On the first hole I hit my second shot to 8 feet but just hit my putt a little firm and hit it through the break. On the second hole I was within range of the green in two but pulled my three wood left into the waste bunker and ended up having to chip and putt for a par; on the third I again hit a good pitch but again missed a short putt for birdie. I wasn’t in any way worried, I just kept doing my own thing and staying patient. I made my first birdie of the round on the 6th hole, holing a 25 footer. I followed this with birdies on the 8th and 9th. The 8th was off two drivers to the edge of the green and then a chip and a putt; the birdie on the 9th was probably my most satisfying of the week. I hit with a good three wood down the left half of the fairway, which left me with a five iron, which I hit with a nice fade to about 10 inches from the hole. At this stage I was 16 under and feeling good; I had struggled in the front nine with my focus but it wasn’t a major issue as I had managed to make a few birdies and got myself back into the lead.
However the back nine was where I was really found out, as is normally the case on the final nine holes of a tournament you are under the most pressure. I pulled my tee shot on the 10th and ended up missing the green with my wedge shot and having to chip and putt for a par. The 11th hole I again hit a poor wedge shot and ended up making a bogey. From here in I was now chasing but I just wasn’t able to make up any ground as I couldn’t get myself to focus well enough. It was too much of a struggle and as a result I ended up hitting some poor shots. In the end I made a bogey on the last hole with a wedge in my hands to finish on 14 under for the week and a share of 5th place. It was disappointing to finish the way I did but not unexpected given my struggle with my focus which I was just lucky enough to get away with it in the early rounds.
All in all the week was a success. That is not to say that I wasn’t disappointed not to win having got myself into position, as I was very disappointed after the round. However once I sat down afterwards and thought about it I could see the good points. If I had won I probably wouldn’t have noted that I need to work quite a bit on my mental game before my next tournament. I am happy that I went to Abu Dhabi as it has given me a few things to work on. I now have two weeks off before my next event to get myself ready.
Thanks for taking the trouble to drop by!