I am in Houston for the final tournament before the Masters. Normally we play in Atlanta this week but the schedule has changed this year. We are playing the Shell Houston Open on the Redstone Golf Course. I played this event last year but didn’t perform that well, finishing 32nd. This year I am here for two reasons, firstly to try and win a tournament and secondly to prepare for the first major of the year.
I traveled from Miami on Monday afternoon and took it easy for the evening. As I played this tournament last year I decided to play 27 holes in practice this year. I played nine holes on Tuesday and then 18 holes in the Pro-am on Wednesday. The rest of my time has been spent practicing my short game with next week in mind. I am preparing as I would normally for an event but I am still thinking about what will be important next week and trying to do as much practice on the key areas so that I don’t have much to do when I get to Augusta.
Last week in Doral I played nicely but was a little rusty in some areas, in particular my chipping and my mental game. With this in mind I have spent my time working on my chipping and making sure that I go through my routine before every shot and take time to get the shot I am going to play clear in my mind. As regards my long game I am happy with where that is at the moment, I have made a few adjustments to my swing of late but they are ongoing changes and so it is something that I am working on over time.
I have purposely taken it easy this week as I don’t want to wear myself out. Over the years I have come to realise that the most important thing about trying to win a golf tournament is to ensure that you are fresh come Sunday. The more practice that I do the less chance I have of being fresh on Sunday and so with this in mind I am doing my best to reduce the amount of tiring work that I do at events.
This year the course has been set up very different to last year. Last year there was heavy rough on the course and so it was important to hit the fairways as the greens got very firm by the weekend; however this year, as it is the last event before the Masters, they have set up the course so as to be as close to Augusta as possible. The rough has been cut right down to almost nothing which means that the emphasis on hitting fairways is gone.
There is plenty of water that comes into play particularly from the tee. The course measures over 7,400 yards which is long but as it is very warm here the ball tends to travel, so it shouldn’t play as long as it sounds. Also they have plenty of options with regard to tee boxes so they can make it play shorter required. There are a few holes that will be crucial to performing well here this week; the holes around the turn and the 18th. The 10th through the 13th are 4 holes that can make your score. The 10th is a shortish par 4, 344 yards, that is a good birdie chance as the green is relatively flat. This is one of the holes where they have two options for where they want us to drive from; they can move the tee box up and to the right so as to give us a chance of going for the green. The 11th is a par four with water all up the right; again it is not too long. It feels like a birdie chance but with the water on the right you can easily have a disaster. The 12th is another driveable par 4 and again it has water all down the right. It measures 337 yards but has a tricky green with several levels on it. The last of this foursome is the par 5 13th, measuring 589 yards with bunkers down the right. It is reachable in two but if you misplace your drive then you have a drain running across the fairway to contend with. These four holes could make or break your round.
The final hole is the signature hole of the course; it is 486 yards and has water all down the left and a big bunker down the right. It is similar to the 18th at Doral; it is 260 yards to carry to the water down the left. Once you have cleared this you have the water left of the green to be wary of. I’d be happy to play this hole in level par for the week.
I would like to go into next week with a good performance under my belt and ideally, I hope to get myself into contention on Sunday afternoon. There is no doubt that it is tiring being in contention but then it is also good practice for the final nine holes of Augusta. So, as ever, I will be trying as hard as I can to win this week as I feel that it would be the best preparation for the Masters.
My trip to Houston was better than last year but my finish was a little disappointing! I finished in a tie for 24th, a little better than last year but it should have been a lot better. After 12 holes of the final round I was three under for the day and ten under for the tournament. Unfortunately I then played the last 6 holes in three over which was particularly poor as these six holes contain two par fives which I bogeyed and to top it all off I three putted the last for a bogey!
I was really annoyed with myself when I finished as I knew that I had thrown away a good chance to finish in the top ten, I knew that I didn’t really have a chance to win the tournament with the way I was scoring and the way that the leading players were scoring but I certainly could have finished well into the top ten if I had played those last six holes well.
I played here last year but the course was set up very differently, this year there was no rough and so I expected the scoring to be much better. I was drawn to play late the first day and then early the second, the scoring on the first morning was good as I had expected but when we got to play in the afternoon the wind had really got up, so the course was playing much tougher than the morning. I started from the 1st on Thursday and I got off to a ropey start, my wedge shot on the first came up short and plugged in the bunker which I got up and down for par. On the 2nd my wedge shot flew a little on the wind and ended up going long, it was a fairly straight forward chip and putt which I didn’t get up and down. I played the next three holes in 1 under, birding the par five 4th. On the 6th hole I was in the right rough off the tee and was hitting a wedge for my second, I pulled it left and it ended up in the water which resulted in a double bogey. At this stage I was two over and quite annoyed with myself. I managed to compose myself and make a few pars to steady the ship. On the back nine I played much better, I made three birdies and six pars to end up shooting one under. The first of my birdies came on the short par four 12th where I hit it on the green from the tee and two putted, I followed it up with a birdie on the next hole after hitting it over the back in two and then getting it up and down. My last birdie of the day came on the 15th another par five, I layed it up and hit a seven iron for my third to 15 feet and holed. In the end I was happy with 71 as I had struggled early on, but on the back nine I had played well and could have made more birdies.
The second round started better than the first, I made a couple of solid pars on the 10th and 11th to open with and then I made a birdie on the 12th again, this time pitching it stiff from 65 yards. Another birdie on the 13th put me to three under for the tournament and moving along nicely. However a bogey on the 15th stopped my momentum, I pulled my drive into the water hazard and could only hack it out sideways; from there I hit a three 100 yards short and then didn’t get it up and down. I parred my way around to the 6th hole where I hit it in close and made a birdie to get back to three under. Now I was thinking that I would finish at least four under as the 8th was reachable in two but I hit a bad shot to the 7th missing the green in the right bunker and didn’t get it up and down and then on the 8th I hit my drive into the water down the right and it cost me a bogey six. A par on the ninth put in the clubhouse on 1 under which at the end of the day left five off the lead but all I could think about was the fact that I had thrown away so many shots.
The good thing was that I felt that I was still within reach of the leaders if I could shoot a low third round. Saturday was a funny day as I was due to tee off at 7.20 am but when I got to the course there was thunder in the air and so we were delayed. It ended up being a six hour delay, I eventually teed off at 1.20 pm. However I did manage to get four hours sleep on a physio table in the locker room during this time! When we eventually got going the conditions were perfect, the greens were soft and there was no wind. I had my best score of the week, 66, six under. It was a good round as it had everything in it; I hit some great shots and some terrible shots and made some great saves. My best save was on the 3rd hole - my 12th, I pulled my drive into the hazard left but not in the water; I was able to play it but I had to take off my shoes and socks and stand in the water and hit it. My effort only just carried the water and left me with a 30 yard chip which I hit to four feet and then holed, a most satisfying par! I also hit three four irons, to the three longer par threes, to inside 10 feet. So all in all it was good performance, six birdies and no dropped shots which was nice to put me to seven under par and a tie for 12th. Unfortunately the leaders also shot very good scores, so I was still seven off the lead on Sunday morning after the leaders had finished their rounds.
On Sunday I was always a bit too far back to have a chance to win, but I knew that a good last round would move me right up the leader board. I made birdies on the 3rd and the 6th after two good wedge shots to get me to nine under. On the 8th hole I pushed my drive right again but this time I got lucky and the ball stayed out of the water, from here I hit a three wood onto the green but three putted it. This kind of stopped me in my tracks as I wasn’t expecting it. I made all pars to the 12th where I birdied it again to get to 10 under and know I am thinking that I am going to push right on and finish well as I have two par fives in my finishing holes. But it wasn’t to be I made a bogey on the 13th by hitting it in the hazard for my second and then on the 15th I drove it in the trap and could only chip out and then couldn’t get it up and down form just short to save par. I was really annoyed with myself, after these holes I did manage to make a couple of pars on the 16th and 17th and then on the 18th I hit a six iron to 12 feet from the right hand trap. I tried to hole the putt and missed and ended up hitting it six feet past and then missing the one back to finish with a bogey and level par for the round. I was livid with myself! I dropped 12 spots on Sunday by shooting level par and 10 under finished in the top 10!
I was very disappointed with my finish as I had a good chance to finish well up the leader board. But looking back on it I realise that I was trying too hard, I was getting caught up in trying too hard to shoot a good score everyday and so I didn’t get the best out of my game. The key for me this coming week will be to take a more relaxed approach into the week and to not be trying too hard. As a warm up for the Masters it went well as I now realise that I was trying to hard, but as regards to the tournament itself I was disappointed in my performance.
Thanks for dropping by - talk to you all soon from Augusta!