This is my last tournament before a two week break, having played three events before this. I am in West Palm Beach for the Honda Classic which was my first win on the PGA Tour two years ago now. It has moved from the course where I won, but only across the road, to PGA National, which has hosted the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup and has recently undergone a redesign by Jack Nicklaus. Even though it is a different course it is always nice to come back to an event that you have good memories of; as it is in the same area the people still remember me winning and are telling me to go and win it again. I keep saying that it would be nice alright! This year the Honda starts the Florida swing where in the last couple of years it has been the second event after Doral. As I have been away from home for three weeks now I am really looking forward to getting back to see Caroline and Patrick but I have to make sure that I keep concentrating on this event and not get caught up in thinking about going home or else I could end up heading home a few days too early!
As I was beaten early last week I arrived here on Saturday night. I have played the course twice since being here; once on Tuesday and once on Wednesday in the Pro-am. The majority of my time has been spent working with Bob Rotella, which is the first time this year that I have had a chance to work with him. As ever it is the same things that we always work on but it is always better when someone is there to work on it with you. I have been doing quite a bit of work on it myself but I always get more done when I am working with Bob. I have spent time with him Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and on those three days I have only hit shots working on my routines and target. This is the area of my game that needs most work at this time of year so any time Bob is around I always spend time working with him.
Along with working on my mental game, I have also spent a lot of time practicing my short game. Last week my chipping let me down against Stewart Cink so I have spent a bit of time hitting chips and also bunker shots. My bunker play has not been great for the last 18 months but after a lesson from my coach Bob Torrance it is coming back. These are the areas that I have really been focusing this week as they will be crucial on this course.
This week we are playing the PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. This course has held many big events, most notably the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup. Since these tournaments have been held the course has undergone redevelopment under Jack Nicklaus. This week we are playing it as a par 70; measuring 7050 yards. It doesn’t sound that long but this course plays longer than its yardage as this part of Florida gets very windy. The course is set up very tough this week, the rough is quite heavy putting a premium on accurate driving but as the course is playing long it means that you can’t get away with hitting three wood that often. It is important to hit fairways but the only saving grace is that the greens have been soft during practice, which means that at least if you are hitting a longer club in then it is still possible to hold the greens. Another feature of this course is that there is water on nearly every hole.
The holes for me that I see as being key to performing well are the last three holes; I reckon these will be key because they are the last three holes and also because they are three tough holes.
16th: This hole measures 434 yards and doglegs right, with water down the right and in front of the green. The most important thing here is to hit the fairway as the second shot can play anything up to a four iron. The further left you hit it off the tee the longer the second shot. If you hit it in the rough then you can’t make the green.
17th: This hole is a par 3 measuring 180 yards; it is over water all the way and has a bunker at the back of the green that you are hitting at. This hole is difficult enough on its own but add in the wind and now you have a really tough par three that you are dreading playing. It can play anything from an 8 iron to a 4 iron.
18th: This hole is a 556 par 5; with water all down the right and in front of the green again. There is also water on the left off the tee. If there is no wind then this hole is nearly reachable but it is a risky shot. With a wind into you then it is definitely out of range and becomes a tough par. There are bunkers all down the left, which makes the lay up tough.
If you can play these three holes well for four days then you won’t be far away come Sunday. For me I am setting out on Thursday trying to get myself into contention. It is a tough course but then it is tough for everyone, but if I can get myself into the mix on Sunday afternoon then I will take my chances. However a big factor this week will be the luck of the draw as it tends to get very windy in the afternoons here. I am playing early on Thursday which is nice as it should be calmer in the morning, hopefully allowing me to get off to a good start.
I had a somewhat disappointing final round on Sunday. It wasn’t that I didn’t play well I just had one bad hole and a couple of three putts. Apart from my sixth hole I actually played really well and gave myself plenty of chances for birdies. To end up finishing in a tie for 13th was disappointing as I was in a good position going out in the final round. My playing partner Camillio Villegas was beaten in a play-off so it wouldn’t have taken much for me to be there with him.
I am happy with the way I played during the week, I would like to have finished higher than I did but looking back I have a lot of positives to take from the week. The course was fantastic and meant that you had to be on top of all elements of your game if you were to contend. This is the sort of course that I would really like to be playing regularly as it makes you play better. There are several tough tee shots and second shots.
Overall I am happy with how the week went with regards to my preparation and my play. I spent three days working with Bob Rotella. Anytime that I get to work with Bob is a bonus as I don’t see him that often, and I hit the ball very well for the whole week. As regards to how I prepared for this event I don’t think that I could have done anymore. I spent a lot of time working on my mental game, practicing my routines and getting myself focused on my target. This is something that I generally struggle with at this early stage of the year, but this year it has been better; still not as good as it was at the end of last year but better than the beginning of most years.
For the four rounds I shot a total of 280, which was level par as the course had been reduced to a par 70. I finished in a tie for 13th position which was disappointing as I started the final round in a tie for 7th and only five shots behind the leader. Going out on Sunday I was very confident as I knew that I was playing well and that I was capable of shooting a score to give myself a chance. In the previous three rounds I had shot 68, 71 and 70 and in each round I felt that I had left shots out on the course. I had given myself plenty of chances but just didn’t convert enough of them. However I was happy enough that I hadn’t blown myself out of it and that I could very easily move up the leader board and give myself a chance to win with how I was playing. However in the final round I made a bad bogey on the second by not getting a fairly simple bunker shot up and down. I was pretty annoyed with myself for not getting it up and down but I didn’t let it affect me and made an eagle on the 3rd hole to get myself back into a positive position. I hit a five iron for my second to about 12 feet and holed for an eagle. I was feeling very good after this. On the 4th I missed a good chance from 12 feet again and then on the 5th I hit a seven iron straight over the flag to 25 feet. This is where it all started; my ball was lying against the collar and I hit it a bit too hard and knocked it six feet past, which I missed. It was poor bogey as I was never in trouble. Then on the 6th hole, I hadn’t hit a good tee shot on this hole all week; I had pushed all my drives away from the water and well right so this time I decided that I wasn’t going to hit it right. I achieved my goal as I hit it left, but into the water! I couldn’t reach the green from my drop so I had to lay it up and leave myself a nine iron which I put in the bunker and then took three to get down as it had plugged. A triple bogey seven put me on three over for the day and two over for the tournament. I was livid at this stage but by the time I got to the 7th tee I had calmed myself down. I hit a good four iron that was unlucky to finish 30 feet away but again I three putted. The 5th, 6th and 7th had cost me five shots and any chance of winning the tournament; gladly I kept my head as it could easily have gone totally after the second three putt and I could have ended up shooting a really high score but I got back into it and managed to play exceptionally well from the 8th in and made three birdies on the back nine to get myself back to level par for the week with a final round of 71. I birdied the 13th, 14th and the 17th and parred all the rest but I missed at least five other makeable putts in those holes. I was disappointed not to birdie the 18th as it would have meant that I would have finished under par for the week and also finished in a tie for 10th.
However as I was traveling home on Sunday night I was thinking about the week and the three events before it. I was happy with how I finished and played at the Honda, there were a few holes that I would have liked to play again but overall my game was in good shape. My preparation was very good which I was happy about. When I looked over the four week stint I was pleased as I had gotten myself into contention in two events out of the four and had good chances to win them. Of the other two I was sick for one so finishing 30th in the AT&T was a good result and then the Match Play is always a funny week given the nature of the format. So all in all I am very happy with how the first four events went. When I compare where I am this year compared to last year at the same time, I feel much better about myself. My game is much better and also my mental game is far superior.
I am at home for a two week break now; it feels good to be home after four weeks away from my family. I am looking forward to working on a few things over the next couple of weeks. Bob Torrance will come over to see me for a couple of days and I will spend some time taking it easy also. I am very happy with how things have gone so far so hopefully it bodes well for the rest of the season.
Talk to you all soon