It is May and we are in Jacksonville for the Players Championship. In the past we would be here in March, as the start of the build up for the Masters, but this is the first year at a new date. It is no secret that the PGA Tour want this event to be the fifth Major and the change of date certainly helps with this. It fits in nicely in nicely with the Masters in April, Players in May, U.S. Open in June, the Open in July and then the US PGA in August.
It does seem funny to be here in May but I have to say that I like the change of date; it fits in well with a good run of events for me. The only problem that I have is that I have not normally played very well in May but hopefully that will change. The change of date is not the only change here this year, the course has had a number of modifications and also there is a new clubhouse. The whole place has had a make-over!
I arrived here on Sunday night after finishing the Wachovia tournament. This is a course that I know well as I have played in this event for a number of years now and have had some good finishes - second twice. I struggled with my game last week so spent a bit of time on Monday trying to iron out a few things, nothing too major, mainly just working on my rhythm. I practiced for about four hours on Monday, about an hour of which was on the long game and the rest on my short game. I felt that even though I played poorly on Friday and Saturday that my short game let me down, which is something that annoys me as I know that it is purely down to practice to improve it. I didn’t play the course on Monday as I wanted to spend my time working on a few things. Tuesday was the first time that I went out on the course and saw the changes.
I played 16 holes on Tuesday on my own as I wanted to take my time and look at what had been changed. The main difference between the course this year and last year is the rough. In the past the rough has been so heavy that if you hit it in then you were merely wedging out, whereas this year the rough is much shorter. It is possible to play a shot from the rough, you lose control coming from it but it is possible to advance the ball to the green. This, I believe, makes the course play much easier as you don’t feel under as much pressure to hit the fairway.
On Wednesday I played nine holes as it was raining heavily for most of the day. I wanted to play the last three holes again as these are the ones that will have the most say in who will win this week. I played with Davis Love and Bobby Wadkins and even though it was raining it was a very enjoyable nine holes; I even got to watch Ronan hit his shot to the 17th in the water, which I will be slagging him about for long time!
I have also spent quite a bit of time working with Bob Rotella this week. As ever I enjoy working with him as it takes my mind of technical practice and gets me much more focused on my routines and focusing on my target, everything that you need to score well.
This is a course that I have played quite well on in the past, which is funny because when I think about how it used to be set up it really shouldn’t suit me! In the past the rough has been very heavy and there has been a premium on hitting the fairway, the sort of courses are not what I would normally play well on. This year there have been a lot of changes, the greens have been re-laid and the grass on the course has been changed. The aim was to have the course set up so that it would play hard and fast. The rough on the course now is much lighter than previous years but it is heavy enough to make it hard to control the ball. They have also put in a new drainage system similar to Augusta; it means that they can suck the water out of the greens, so even if it rains the greens will remain firm. It will play very differently to how it has in the past and players are still unsure as to how it will pan out. I personally like the changes as I prefer to play a course where if you hit it in the rough you can get it to the green and try and chip and putt as opposed to wedging it out. In the past this course suited the straight hitters but with the changes I feel it plays much more into the hands of the long hitters.
The course now measures over 7,400 yards. They have lengthened a few holes since last year; the 1st, 8th, 11th, 16th and 18th. The lengthening hasn’t made a huge difference as it only brings the holes back to how they played a few years ago, infact in some case I feel it has made them play a bit easier as the drives on the 16th and 18th play much straighter now. However the introduction of the new drainage system has made a big difference as it means that the greens will remain firm no matter how much rain falls.
This is one of the courses that all golf fans probably know inside out as this tournament has been here for a long time. There are 18 very good holes on this course, but the ones that everyone remembers and looks forward to watching us play are the last three. The reason behind this is that there is water on all of them and they always cause excitement.
The 16th is a 527 yards par 5. It has been lengthened by 20 yards from last year; doglegs right to left and has water from half way down and all around the green. It is easily reachable in two, but it is not all about length off the tee as the second shot can be treacherous as the green gets very firm and the pins are nearly always close to the water. To be able to get to the green you have to hit the fairway and even if you do it is a tough second shot. The biggest problem on this hole is the lay up if you can’t reach the green as there is a tree over-hanging the green which makes a pitch very difficult. It is a hole that you feel you should birdie but in trying to force a birdie you can easily have a disaster.
The 17th is one of the most famous holes in golf. It is short par 3 at only 140 yards, but it one of the most terrifying holes you can play. It has an island green and the wind swirls around the teeing area and the green. I always try to play a three quarter shot to this hole as it helps in controlling the distance and also in eliminating the wind effect. You are never happy on this hole until you see your ball on dry land. Four pars would be a great return on this hole!
The 18th is 464 yards with water all down the left. With the extra length I feel that the drive is easier, but it is now the second shot that is harder. Anything missing the green left is in the water and anything missing it right is in a near impossible up and down. You really feel that you have to hit a good shot in here but it puts you under a lot of pressure! Anyone that plays this hole in level par will make up shots on the field.
Overall I like the changes to the course; I feel that they suit me. I am happy with the work that I have done with Bob Rotella and the practice that I have done on my short game. I am not worrying about last week, just putting it down as a poor week. I am looking forward to getting going here and will try hard to get myself into contention come Sunday afternoon. It is a venue that I have good memories of and so I am hoping that it will help to bring out the best in me. I am drawn with Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia for the first two rounds. We play at 1.02 pm (6.02pm Irish time) Thursday and 8.02 am (1.02 pm Irish time) on Friday.