We have finally arrived in Augusta for the first major of the year, The Masters. As ever the last four or five weeks all the media have wanted to talk about is the Masters and as a result the players end up talking about it as well. This is probably the major that the public enjoy most as it is held at the same venue every year and due to the magical feeling about Augusta. Every year that I come here it only gets better and better, it is one of the few places in the world that lives up to your expectations and if anything it exceeds them. The biggest problem for me is that I have to play a tournament this week; it is certainly a week that I could really enjoy if I wasn’t competing.
For me this is my eight Masters, my best finish todate has been fifth but I would definitely say that my best performance was last year when I finished in a tie for twenty-seventh. Even though I finished 27th the reason it was my best performance was because I managed to get myself into contention on the Saturday afternoon after the rain delay, when I came back on Sunday morning to finish off my round I was in with a good chance but unfortunately I finished poorly and then faded in the final round.
My preparation has been very similar to last years here; I have played 36 holes in practice over three days, nine on Monday and Wednesday and 18 on Tuesday. The majority of my time has been spent working on my routines and preparation, hitting plenty of chip shots and generally refreshing myself with the various shots that you are required to hit here. The main difference in my preparation from last year has been my trip to the dentist on Monday morning. In Doral a couple of weeks ago I knocked out a filling and last week it was beginning to aggravate me so I decided rather than let it annoy me all week that I would get it sorted at the start of the week.
As I have come to realise over the years the most important thing about big weeks like this one is to be mentally sharp and as such the means making sure not to tire yourself out. For me it is hard not to do too much, I enjoy practicing and so I really have to force myself to take it easy. This week I have really kept it to a minimum, I have only really spent my time warming up and then chipping and putting. I haven’t really gotten into any technical practice. I would have to say that I have been happier with my game, in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday I hit a few poor shots and struggled with my putter a bit but even still I have resisted the temptation to get into a technical frame of mind. I am sticking to my preparation and hoping that it works. I have spent quite a bit of time with Bob Rotella this week which I have found very helpful with regard to getting me into the right frame of mind for the week.
The only change in my equipment this week is the addition of a 64 degree lob wedge; I am dropping my sand wedge in favour of carrying two lob wedges. The reason behind this is that the extra lofted one is much easier to hit some of the tricky chip shots with. It helps when I am hitting a chip shot over a ridge and have very little green to work with.
I played the par three event as I always do and as always I was trying to win, I have won it on two previous occasions but not this year. I shot one under this year which was four shots off Mark O’Meara’s total of five under. So this year the only man that has the ability to break the curse is Mark!
There haven’t been any real changes to the course this year the only difference to last year is that it is playing firmer so far. Last year they didn’t use the backs of the new tees whether they do or not this year we don’t know. I think most players have been practicing from the back markers just in case. As far as courses go I think that this is the ultimate test, there is no hiding places on this course, you have to hit the shots here there is no getting away with mediocrity. Last year I hit fifteen great drives on the sixteen par fives and I played them in three over par, which was something like 13 shots worse than Phil. But if I was back again I would play the holes the very same as you have to take on the shots here if you want to win. It is definitely the course that I think about most when I am working on my game, this is the course that I use as a yard stick to measure how my game has improved.
Augusta is probably the most famous course in the world; all golf fans know it so well from watching it on the television for years. As ever the key holes will be Amen Corner, from the 11th through the 13th. These holes have always had a big bearing on the outcome of the Maters and I am sure that it will be no different this year. The par 4 11th, par 3 12th and the par 5 13th seem so simple in practice but when you get into tournament they become daunting holes with disasters lurking everywhere. Definitely these will have a big bearing on the eventual winner. It is hard to pick out holes that will decided the outcome of this years masters as there are 18 of them. There is no hole here that is easy or a let up, every one has disaster lurking at any stage. Amen corner will make or break a lot of players tournament but everyone of the holes will have there say with regard to the winner. Although the old cliché stills bears true here “the Master doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday” there are several players over the years that will back this statement up.
I am happy with how my preparation has been all year; there is no doubt that I would like to have a few wins under my belt coming here but that can’t be rectified. I am here now and ready to go, what I have with me this week is what I have to use. I would like to be involved in the shake up come Sunday afternoon; if I can get myself into contention on Sunday afternoon then it has been a success. I will happily take being in contention come Sunday and see how things go then, for that to happen I know that I have to remain patient and not to try to hard; this is probably one of the hardest things for me to do as I have always tried to hard!
The first major of the year is over and the season is now really in full swing now. It was a slightly different Masters this year than we are all used to; some people thought it was more like the US Open rather than the Masters. As far as I am concerned I loved it. I believe that Augusta is the ultimate test when it comes to golf. This course really tells you where you stand in relation to your game and what needs to be worked on. It certainly was tougher than any other year that I have played here but then it is a major and it is supposed to be tough. This year it was probably a more impressive test than other years because it was a complete test of your golf game and your mental game. I don’t think there was one player in the field that came off the course on Sunday and didn’t have a disaster story from some stage in the week to talk about. I know I had a couple of them!
I finished in a tie for seventh this year. It is not my best finish in a Masters but it certainly was my best performance by a long way. When I finished tied fifth in 2002 I was never in contention. I played well during the week but it was a good finish that pushed into fifth. The difference with this week was that I was in contention for the whole weekend and with a few holes to go I was one of the challengers. This and last years US Open definitely rank as my best majors todate. In the rest of the majors that I have played I have never really got myself into contention but in these two I was not only in contention but I had a really good chance to win. As far as I am concerned this is a big step, I can take a lot of confidence from this as I feel that all the work that I have done with regards to my game over the years has now put me in a good position to win majors.
On Wednesday I played nine holes and I wasn’t happy with how I was playing but I resisted the urge to go to the range and work on my game. I had been practicing my mental game all week and I didn’t want to ruin my good work. This is something that I have committed to doing at tournaments this year, spending more time on my mental game and practicing my technical game during my weeks off. On Thursday I was a lot happier with my game and played quite well bar one or two shots. The course was playing very tough as it was hard and fast and there was a substantial wind blowing. I got off to the start I was looking for, by parring the first hole. I followed it up with a birdie on the second and then a par on the third. I was playing nicely and in a very good frame of mind. However I would quickly discover the real Augusta, when I bogeyed the 4th, 5th, and 6th to go to two over. The really disappointing thing about these bogeys was that they were all short game lapses. I was just through the green on the fourth and hit a poor chip, missing from six feet for par. On the fifth I came up short with my approach and then three putted for another bogey and on the sixth I was just through the back and again played a poor chip shot and missed the putt. I was quite annoyed with myself as these were places that I should be getting up and down from. Over the next eight holes I made two birdies and two bogeys, the birdies came on the 9th where I stiffed a wedge and the 13th where I stiffed a lob wedge. The two bogeys came on the 10th and the 14th again, due to a poor short game. I hit poor chips from areas that I should have got up and down from. I was two over playing the 15th and after my drive I was just about on the limit of reaching it in two so I decided that the best thing to do was to lay it up and play for a pitch and putt. I layed it up to lob wedge distance and then in my effort not to hit the pitch too hard I made sure that I hit it easy and ended up hitting it in the water and taking an eight! I was so annoyed as I had done the sensible thing and layed it up and still made a mess of it. However I kept my cool and managed to par the last three holes to finish on five over. It wasn’t the start that I was looking for but I knew that I had to keep my composure for the week and just keep playing my game.
On Friday I played very similar to Thursday. I hit the ball much the same but the main difference was that I holed a few more putts. I got off to a great start, making birdies on the first three holes, holing putts from about 10 to 12. This got me right back into things straight away and pars on the next three holes kept me going nicely. Then a bad drive on the 17th meant that I couldn’t make the green, but I managed to get it to just short of the green so as to give myself a chance to chip and putt. I then hit a bad chip into the bunker, failed to get it up and down and ended up making a double bogey, again giving shots away and on this course it is hard to make them up. I followed it up with a birdie on the 8th and then I hit a wedge to three feet on the 8th but unfortunately I missed the birdie putt. Still I was out in two under for the day and in good shape, but another bogey on the tenth knocked me back a little. This time I went through the green with my approach and was left with a very difficult chip. However, this was my last bogey of the day. I made three more birdies on the way home and dropped no more shots. I birdied the 11th after hitting it to 15 feet, the 15th after hitting it over the back in two and then finished with a birdie for a round of 68. My birdie on the last was probably my best as I had to cut a five iron around the trees as I was blocked out. I still walked off the course feeling that I had left shots behind me as I had made a bogey and a double bogey and also failed to birdie the 13th whilst missing a couple of other birdie putts. But the main thing was that I had got myself back into the tournament. I finished the day in a tie for 8th which meant that I would be playing in the fourth last group on Saturday.
My scoring over the weekend wasn’t as good as it needed to be to win but it wasn’t far away. On Saturday I shot 75, three over, and managed to move into a tie for 4th place. I never really got it going; I bogeyed the 1st, 4th and 5th and made one birdie on the 3rd to get me out in two over for the day. I did manage to make some very good pars as well, probably the best one was on the ninth when I had to hit my second shot from the middle of the first fairway! The back nine was quiet enough until the 15th. I bogeyed the 12th after hitting it in the back bunker and then made a birdie on the 13th to get back to three over for the tournament and missed from 12 feet on the 14th for birdie. On the 15th I went for a big drive so as to give myself a chance of getting up in two but I pushed it into the trees on the right. I had to lay it up and was only able to get it down the left side. I was left with 111 yards to the pin which I was quite happy with, but I didn’t quite catch my wedge properly and it ended up in the water and I finished with another double bogey. However I kept my cool again and made a par on the 16th and a birdie on the 17th and then a good chip and putt on the last from short of the green to give me a round of 75. It wasn’t the round I was hopping for but it still moved me forward and left me only two behind leader Stuart Appleby over night.
On Sunday I was playing in the second last group with Justin Rose. Again I got off to a bad start by bogeying the 1st hole; I pulled my approach shot into the trap and didn’t get it up and down. Another bogey on the 4th put me to six over for the tournament. Unfortunately I didn’t make any birdies on the front nine but the main thing was that I hadn’t blown myself out of it. Standing on the 10th tee I knew that I could still do it but that I had to be a bit more aggressive. I hit a seven iron to 20 feet above the hole but had to hole from 6 feet back for my par. On the 11th I pushed my drive which meant that I had to hit a big cut around the trees to get to the green which I did, but it only made the front and the pin was at the back. I was putting through the shadows and found it very hard to establish how fast the putt was and then left it 10 feet short and then missed the next one. I was now 7 over and in need of a very good finish, which meant that I had to go at the pins coming in. On the 12th I hit a little 7 iron straight at the pin to four feet and holed for my first birdie of the day. Then on the 13th I hit my drive over the corner of the trees and through the fairway. I was left with a five to the green which I hit to five feet and holed for an eagle to get me to four over. On the 14th I pushed my drive into the trees but was lucky to have a shot, from where I hit my lob wedge to the edge of the green and got it up and down for par. I knew that I needed to make a few more birdies coming in, at least two if I was to have a chance. I hit a really good drive down the 15th to leave myself with 235 yards to the pin; it plays 9 yards downhill so it was really playing 226 yards, which was perfect for my hybrid! I hit probably my best shot of the day. It was all over the pin but it caught a little gust of wind, landed a yard from being good and ended up coming back into the water. I wasn’t too devastated as I had hit a great shot when I had to, it just got a little unlucky. I made a bogey to go to 5 over and realistically I was out of the tournament as Zach Johnson was then level par. I bogeyed the 16th after going through the green, this time I got no wind affecting my shot; but this is what Augusta is all about. I finished with a birdie on the 17th and just missed a birdie on the 18th to finish in a tie for 7th on five over.
I wasn’t that disappointed afterwards as I felt that I had hit the shots on the final few holes when I was asked too. The 15th was probably only a couple of feet from being very good and if it had got up in two I would have had a good chance of making another eagle and probably a definite birdie, which would have meant that I would have had a chance with three holes to play. But it wasn’t to be.
Overall I am happy with my performance. I feel that my game has progressed to the stage where I can win around Augusta. It was a great experience to be in contention on the back nine of the Masters. Yes it would have been great to finish it off but it will have to wait for another time. When I look back over the 72 holes I know that it was my short game that ultimately let me down and that playing the 15th hole in 5 over par was disastrous. But all in all it was a good week; I will take away a lot of positives and look forward to the next major. I enjoyed being in contention and look forward to getting there again.
Talk to you all soon,