It has been three weeks since my last tournament, the Masters, which is my largest break in the middle of a season since I turned professional. I have to say that I really enjoyed my time at home; it gave me time to get all the things that had been building up done. I had a sun spot removed from my forehead. Luckily it wasn’t cancerous but the doctors felt it was best to have it removed. I also had Bob Torrance over for a few days to give my swing the once over. As ever there were a few small things to work on; always a work in progress.
After three weeks without competitive play I am really looking forward to getting back into tournament mode again. The break has definitely done what I had hoped for as I am itching to get going again. As ever though I am coming into this week wishing that I had played last week as I am feeling a bit rusty after the time off, given too much practice. At the Masters I felt that I had my game in a very good position and my mental game was also very strong, but the few weeks at home practicing has managed to erode that feeling. It will take me a week or so to get myself back into the right frame of mind.
From here on in my season is very busy, I don’t think that I have another two week break until sometime in October or November. I am starting a run of four events this week, taking in this week’s event then The Players Championship, the Irish Open and finishing up at Wentworth for the BMW. It will be a tiring run as I have to get back from Florida after the Players for the Irish.
I arrived at the course on Monday afternoon and spent a couple of hours getting rid of the cob webs and the jet lag. The first day back is always the toughest as it is hard to get going. Tuesday was the first “real” day back. I played nine holes with Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke and spent a couple of hours practicing my pitching and putting. I am struggling most with my putting as I have spent quite a bit of time practicing it over the last three weeks and as a result I have gotten a bit too technical with it. With this in mind I have spent quite a bit of time going through my routine and putting with just one ball so as to feel as if I am on the course. My long game is fine, but the only problem I have is trying to get the technical thoughts out of my head and get myself back in the frame of mind of scoring.
At the Masters I was in a great frame of mind. I wasn’t worried where I hit it; all I was thinking about was my target and getting it in the hole in as few a shots as possible. This is the frame of mind that I would like to have every week that I play but unfortunately I have to work hard to get it. All my practice on the range this week has been purely mental, going through my routine and focusing on my target. It will take another few days before it is fully there as I am still thinking technical thoughts even when I am trying to get myself into my target. Wednesday was a bit better, as I would expect as it will get better each day. I didn’t hit many shots on Wednesday, just the pro-am and plenty of putting. On the course in the pro-am I felt that I was getting better and was getting more into my target as it went on. I was also getting a bit more comfortable with my putting; it is just a matter of me being patient during the week and not getting frustrated when I hit poor shots due to my lack of competitive play.
This course has a real US Open feel to it. It is an old style course with each hole tree lined and undulating greens. If ever there was a course that could hold a US Open this is it. This is my second time playing here, my last time was two years ago, and I have to say that it is a course that I find very tough but very good. I would be happy if we played courses like this every week. The course is playing totally different to when I was here last. This year it is firm and fast whereas the last time I was here it was a little soft which made the greens quite receptive. With the course playing the way it is, it makes it much harder to score as every green is releasing at least five or six yards, which makes getting the ball close very hard. Another big factor this week is the speed of the greens. They are running exceptionally fast and if you hit it above the hole you are really struggling to get it down in two. This course measures 7,442 yards but it is not playing it full length as the ground is so firm. It means that you don’t have to hit your driver as much as you would normally on a course of this length. Another feature of this course is the elevation changes. There are several holes with elevation changes of 10 yards or more, which makes clubbing quite tough, especially if it gets windy.
The holes that I see as being key this week are the 14th, 17th and 18th.
The 14th is a short par four that plays downhill with a long green, 50 yards long. All down the left of the hole is the lake, it is 313 yards to the front of the green which in these warm conditions is make able, but the water comes into play and there are also several bunkers around the green. If you decide to lay it up then you have a very tough pitch and again it is possible to hit it in the water with your second shot. This is a hole that you feel you should be picking up a shot but you can as easily drop one if you try too hard to make a birdie.
The 17th is a 220 yard par 3 with water in front of the green and to the left and a run off to the right. The green is exceptionally firm which means that a long iron landing on the green can run into the water. The temptation is to hit it right but it is a very tough up and down from there. The key here is to just make sure that you hit the green, four pars on this hole is a great return.
The 18th will be a key hole for two reasons, one because it is the last hole and two because it is so tough. There is a bunker on the right at 280 yards and a stream all up the left, making a very tight drive. After the drive you are left with a mid to long iron to the green with a pond on the left and a sloping green. A par is a great score here.
I am drawn with Adam Scott and Jason Bohn for the first two rounds. I don’t have high expectations as I am still trying to get myself back into competitive mode. As ever I am looking to play my own game and not worry about anyone or anything else. I will be trying to get myself into contention come Sunday afternoon and then I will find out how my mental practice has gone!
This week didn’t go quite as I had expected. Coming off a three week break I felt that I would struggle to find any sort of form, but I went out and shot a very good score to lead after the first round. I then really struggled over the next two days, but luckily found a bit of form again on the Sunday. It was really an up and down week, the good rounds were probably a bit better than I had expected and the bad rounds were particularly poor.
I finished on one over for the tournament in a share of 42nd position, after my first round it is hard to believe that I finished so bad but the funny thing is that it could have been worse. I got a bit frustrated in the first two rounds when I hit bad shots as I felt that I shouldn’t be hitting them seeing as I had practiced for the past few weeks. Once I got it clear in my head that I hadn’t played a tournament for three weeks and that it takes a while to get rid of the rustiness then I was able to accept my bad shots better. It was harder for me to realise it this time as I had managed to get it so right at the Masters that I half expected to turn up here and have it just the same. However it took me a few weeks of working on my mental game and routines to get to that stage.
Before the tournament started I didn’t have high expectations so when I started with a 66 I was very surprised. I didn’t feel that I played all that well but I had putted well. I used a new putter in the first round, the same head that I have been using for a long time but with a new shaft. The shaft has weight on it which effectively makes your miss hits run out better. I had been struggling with my putting in practice and once I started to use this torpedo shafted putter I felt much more comfortable. I had 24 putts in the first round and shot six under. I was happy with my putting but not with the rest of my game. I really struggled anytime I had to hit a fade, it tended to start left and even move to the left. I was also struggling to accept that I wasn’t quite hitting the ball the way that I wanted too, this tends to happen with me when I have been practicing a lot.
After starting well it now meant that I had even more expectation as I was leading over night and in contention to win the tournament. My round on Friday started very poorly, I hit it in the trees on the left of the 1st and made a bogey, and then I bogeyed the 2nd and the 4th. I was really playing terribly and at this stage I was thinking that it was possible that I could miss the cut if I kept going. I managed to settle myself with a birdie on the 5th and then holed from just short of the 6th to get me back to one over for the day. However I gave these shots back over the next three holes when I bogeyed the 8th and the 9th, which put me back on three under par for the tournament and playing terrible. I started the back nine with birdie, which got me going, I then birdied the 11th, 12th and 13th to get to one under par for the day and seven under in total. On the 11th I got a free drop from a sprinkler and was able to drop it on the fairway; this was my first fairway of the day! After making these birdies I felt that I was going to go on and birdie the 14th and 15th and finish on 9 under but I got ahead of myself. I only pared the 14th and 15th both after putting myself in decent position to make birdies. Then on the 16th I hit a terrible drive into the trees left, chipped out and hit wedge for my third to 6 feet and made par - a great par! I hit a really good five iron right down the pin on 17th but it just caught the down slope and ran through the green, I didn’t get it up and down. On the 18th I hit my three wood into the fairway bunker on the right, from here I hit a 6 iron but the wind moved it more than I had expected and it ended up in the stream. I dropped out and hit a poor chip to 15 feet and proceeded to three putt for a seven. I was so disappointed as I had played so badly but had managed to salvage a round out of it until the last two holes. If I had finished up shooting 1 under it would have been the best round of golf I have ever played.
I went out on Saturday and played a little better than I did on Friday but only a bit. On Friday I was struggling with my driving and I hit some of the worst hooks you have seen. On some holes I was 80 yards from the fairway! I ended up shooting a 79 on Saturday to be on four over for the tournament, very disappointing considering I was six under after the first round. On Sunday I improved in every sense, I was much happier with my game, still not what I wanted but happier. I shot three under to move myself up the field a little.
I was very disappointed to play the way that I did as I hit some really poor shots. Having started the week so well it is always annoying to play badly but once I realized that I was trying too hard and that it was my first week out after my biggest mid season break of my professional career I wasn’t too worried about it. The one positive that I can take from the week is my new putter; I was really delighted with how that worked out. I had been testing it in practice for a while now but hadn’t managed to put it in play in a tournament, I was thrilled with the results. I rolled the ball lovely with it which made me feel much more comfortable over my short putts. As for the week, I have written it off as just a bad week and am looking forward to the Players.
Talk to you all soon...