I am in Tucson this week for the Accenture World Match Play, one of the World Golf Championship events. For the last number of years this has been held in La Costa in San Diego but due to the bad weather that has blighted the event for the last few years they have changed the venue to Tucson. It is in the desert and so the weather should be more predictable. I am not too disappointed to be leaving La Costa behind, even though I have done reasonably well there I was never really a big fan of the course; the main reason was the greens. So coming to a new venue where the course, and especially the greens will be in good condition is definitely a positive for me.
This is a totally different type of event than the normal tournaments that we play as it is the top 64 in the world and it is matchplay over 18 holes. As we all know with matchplay anything can happen. It is a great form of golf, especially for the spectator. The normal rules go out the window here this week as you are not overly worried as to how you play as long as you win and you will find players taking on pins that they normally wouldn’t, as their opponent may be in close and they have no choice. So this week you are playing the course and your opponent. This is a format that I enjoy as I have played a huge amount of matchplay as an amateur; as an amateur I had a very good record but as a pro it has been somewhat more mixed.
This is a new venue for the Tour, so nobody has played a tournament around it before. There are a few players that have played the course in the previous months in the knowledge that they were coming here for the Match Play. It is a par 72 that measures 7,351 yards, but if the sun shines it won’t play its full yardage as the ball travels a lot further here due to the altitude that the course is at. However if it is not warm then it will play more like its yardage as the ball will not go as far in cold weather. As you can imagine the course is in the middle of a desert and is surrounded by cactus and other plants that I am certainly not used to seeing. As with most courses that are built in a desert or in similar terrain, there are wide landing areas but if you miss them you are really in trouble as there is not much you can do when your ball is stuck in the shrubs. As it is matchplay I see the key holes as the par fives and the two driveable par fours as you feel that these are birdie holes and if you don’t birdie them there is a good chance that your opponent will.
The 7th is the first driveable par four on the course and is the shortest at 357 yards, but it won’t even play this yardage as they have moved the tee up so that we will be forced into going for the green. The main defence on this hole is the wasteland either side of the fairway and the sloping green. It is definitely a hole that you feel you have to birdie. I will be going for the green and taking my chances of a chip and putt if I don’t make it.
The 12th is the next driveable par four, measuring 362 yards, but again they have moved the tee forward so that we can make the green. It plays uphill and has four bunkers around the green area to catch you out. Again, I will be going with driver here as I feel the closer you are to the green the more likely you are to make a birdie.
Another of the key holes will be the 17th; it is a 601 yard par five that plays uphill. It is on in two for the bigger hitters but not for the shorter ones. If you can get it there in two at this late stage of the match it is a huge advantage. I will be trying to get a good drive away to give myself a chance of making it as it could make all the difference in a match. For 3 shots it is fairly straight forward, but the green is very big like them all and so can be hard to judge the pitch.
This is a great matchplay course as there are plenty of holes that give up birdies and also plenty of holes that can cause difficulty. I would say that it suits the longer hitters but then the greens are very big and the ball runs off them easily so you have to be able to chip well.
As it is a new course to me I arrived here on Sunday night so that I could play it on Monday and Tuesday. I played the course on Monday and it was playing very tough, and it was cold and windy which made the holes play particularly tough. On Tuesday it was more like a normal day here, warm with a little wind; in these conditions it was like playing a totally different course. I did most of my work on the course this week, plenty of chipping and putting and a lot of bunker practice. I did it on the course as the greens are tricky and so I felt it was better to do my practice around the greens that we will be playing as opposed to the practice green. As the tournament starts on Wednesday there hasn’t been as much time as normal to prepare for the week. I am happy with how everything is going, so I am not too worried that we have one less day than normal.
I am drawn against Lee Westwood in the first round; it seems a long way to come to play Lee! As with all matches it will be tough but this match will be a little tougher as we both know each other well and have played on many teams together. Lee is a very good player and is always hard to beat. I will have to be at the top of my game, but the important thing for me is to play my own game and not to get caught up looking at Lee. Last year I got to the quarter finals and I was beaten by Davis Love on the last when he holed his third shot for an eagle. It is hard to have any expectations in a matchplay event as each match is so tough. If I can keep playing my own game then hopefully that will be good enough.
The change of venue for the Accenture Match Play wasn’t as successful as last year for me. I made it to the last 32, winning one match against Lee Westwood. The nature of this event is that it is unpredictable, given that it is 18 hole matches. Over the years I have had a somewhat mixed record in this tournament, my best performance being last year getting to the quarter finals and I have gone out in the first round once. In general I have managed to win at least one match as I did this year.
In the first round I was drawn against Lee Westwood, a match that I knew would be extremely tough. As I expected it was, but I managed to win in extra time! For my second round I played Stewart Cink, another tough match as Stewart is very solid player and a very good putter. I ended up losing to Stewart on the last hole which was disappointing but I didn’t start well and it left me too much to do.
I was disappointed to go out in the second round but I just didn’t play well enough to get through. I got caught out on a few things as I would have expected as it is still my first few events. I have definitely improved each week with regard to my routines and focus but there is still some work to be done.
My first round was against my Ryder Cup team mate, Lee Westwood. I have known Lee for a long time now; it is always tough playing someone that you know well. I have played with Lee when he was at the top of his game and very close to being the best player in the world. This is what made this match even tougher for me as I know what he is capable of.
We had an up and down match, halved the first hole in birdies and then it started. Lee holed from off the green for birdie on the second to go one up but then he missed the third green on the left and didn’t get it up and down and I won the hole with a solid par. He stiffed it on the fourth and when I missed from twenty feet for birdie I went one down. I won the next with a par again as Lee missed the green and again failed to get it up and down. We halved the next two holes with a par and a birdie. Then on the par three 8th I hit it to thirty feet left of the pin and Lee was another twenty feet away and just off the green, but he had to putt over a hump, which he managed to hole! I missed my putt and went one down; we halved the ninth in par and the tenth in birdie. On the ninth I had to hole a six footer for par to half the hole and on the tenth we both two putted for birdies. On the eleventh we were both in good position, I had 95 yards to the pin and Lee was probably about 15 yards further away. He hit it to about 15 feet and I tried to hit a little sandwedge but it flew a bit further than I expected and caught the bank at the back of the green. It left me with a very tough chip which I left short and then when I couldn’t chip the next one in I conceded the hole. On the 12th I had to hole another 6 foot putt for a halve, and at this stage I was struggling a bit. On the 13th Lee made a mistake that gave me an opening; he missed the green right when the pin was on the right, I hit it to the middle of the green and ended up having two putts for a win. We halved the 14th, 15th and 16th in pars; on the 17th I pulled my drive into the rough. Lee skied his and ended up leaving himself a long way back in two. I tried to go for the green but caught the trap short right. Lee came up short for his third which was another opening for me; I knew that as long as I got it on the green I would have a chance of winning the hole. I hit my bunker shot 30 feet past the flag and spun it back to five feet, which I holed to go all square. On the 18th I hit it to eight feet and ended up having it to win the match, but unfortunately I hit it a bit too hard and missed it on the high side. It meant that I had to go down the 19th. We both hit good drives, Lee pushed his second through the green on the right and I hit my hybrid to the middle of the green to about 40 feet. Lee chipped it stone dead for a birdie which left me with my putt for a win but really I was thinking about getting down in two and going down the next. I hit a really good putt and as soon as I looked up and saw the line it was on I knew that it was going in. I wasn’t expecting to hole but it was nice and it reminded me of my putt at Westchester. Lee was disappointed as I would have been if I was in his position.
My second round match was against Stewart Cink, another tough match. I made it even tougher on myself with my start. We halved the first in pars after I missed a six foot putt to win the hole and then I went on a run of holes that were terrible. I missed the next four greens and failed to get up and down on any of them. I had a mix of chips shots, some more difficult than others but I played them all badly, which put me four down thru five holes. On the 6th hole I had a chance to win the hole as Stewart hit his drive into trouble. I hit my second just short of the green and in the end I had to get it up and down to win the hole but again I couldn’t. The first hole that I won was the driveable 7th, I hit it just short of the green and then chipped it to 20 feet which I holed and Stewart took three to get down from a similar position as myself. I halved the next two holes in pars, to turn in three down. I then lost the 10th hole to a birdie; again I couldn’t chip and putt from just short of the green. This put me back to 4 down and looking like I was heading out of the tournament. On the 11th I pitched to six feet, which I holed for a win as Stewart missed the green, a ray of hope! On the driveable 12th I hit my drive into the greenside trap, I did manage to get this one up and down but only for a halve. We halved the next in par also; Stewart missed a short put for a win. Then on the 14th I hit the green and he missed it, and after he made a bogey I had two putts for a win, which I duly did. I then birdied the 15th to get myself back to 1 down. At this stage I was feeling pretty good as I had really dug in and come back. On the 16th I hit a really nice nine iron down the flag but it just ran over the back, whereas Stewart hit the green. I putted mine but hit it too hard and ended up off the front of the green; I wasn’t able to hole my next and went back to 2 down. On the 17th I hit the green in two but had a very tough two putt but luckily I only needed to three putt for a win. This meant that I had to win the 18th to go down the 19th. I hit a good drive into the right rough and then pitched it to 8 feet. Stewart had a 30 footer for birdie which he missed and left 3 feet from the hole. I had to hole mine; I hit a very good putt on the line I wanted. It was turning into the hole nicely and then it moved out at the last second caught the left lip and missed. I lost one down and was devastated to lose as I had a good chance to take it into extra holes. But really I didn’t do enough in the early holes and so I couldn’t complain really.
Talk to you all soon.