Irish Open Preview...
It is the time of year that every Irish person asks “who was the last Irishman to win the Irish Open?” It has been a long time since we had an Irish winner which is surprising considering that we have had some very good players that have done very well elsewhere. There is no doubt that I would dearly love to win this event, after a major this is the next one that I would like to win. It would be very special to win your home event.
This year we are in Adare Manor, after a couple of years at Carton House it has taken up residence here in Adare for the next three years. The last time that I played a tournament here was in 2005 in the J.P. McManus pro-am; I played great for two days and won by five shots I think. That was the first time that I saw the course and I really liked it. Now we are coming back for the Irish Open and I have to say that I think it will be a great venue for this tournament, the Village is right outside the gate. Certainly when J.P.’s pro-am was here there were huge crowds for the two days so if they can get anything like those numbers then it will be fantastic.
I am coming here after two weeks in the States, I would like to have played better in the last couple of weeks but there is nothing that I can do about that now. I arrived back in Ireland on Monday morning and traveled down to Limerick in the afternoon. I have been feeling a little jet lagged but not too bad. On Tuesday I did a small bit of work with Bob Torrance just to have a look a few things and then I played 18 holes with Noel Fox, a friend of mine that has got an invite this year. It was great to play with Noel as it made it much easier as it didn’t feel like it was a practice round. I spent most of the round just getting another look at the course, not worrying too much about how I was hitting it. I came down a few weeks ago to play the course so I have seen it in a number of different weather conditions now. On Wednesday afternoon I played in the pro-am, the weather was pretty miserable but it was still good to be playing as I always like to play in the pro-am as it gets me in the scoring mode. In the conditions that we played in it was hard to score well but even still it is worth it as you have to hit it at flags and try and hole putts something that you are not to worried about when you are playing a normal practice round. Also on Wednesday I had the pleasure of announcing a new sponsor, the Bank of Ireland, who has agreed to sponsor me for three years. I am really delighted to be partnering with the Bank of Ireland as they are an Irish company that is competing in the International market something like me. I look forward to working with them over the next three years.
The golf course has changed a bit since I won the McManus pro-am here in 2005, there have been a lot of new tees added and the rough has been lengthened substantially. It now measures 7,415 yards, when you consider that there is heavy rough off the fairways you can imagine that it actually feels even longer. I really liked the course the old way, if it was up to me I wouldn’t have lengthened it and I would have no rough. I like to go and enjoy playing, trying to make birdies and eagles. This week it may be more about pars than birdies. It is a brilliant course, set among mature trees with a river running through it. I have played this course in strong winds and you wouldn’t know it was that windy as the trees shelter you. There are a few holes that are quite exposed and on these ones it is tough to remember that you have to allow a lot for the wind as you haven’t really been feeling it when you have been in the trees. There are a lot of great holes on this course, ones that if they were on another course you would pick them out as the best holes, it is practically impossible to pick the best hole here as they are all good. The holes that I see as being key this week are the 9th, 16th and 18th. Two of these are par fives and one a par three. The ninth hole is a 631 yard par five that plays straight up towards the Manor, the key with this hole is hitting it on the fairway from the tee. If you hit the fairway from the tee you can get yourself up to a good position where as if you don’t hit the fairway then you are struggling to hit the green in three. This hole maybe a par five but a par is a good score here.
The 16th is a 167 yard par three over water. This hole has a number of good pin positions on it but the best is probably the one that they will use on Sunday, the back right. It means that you have to take on all the water to get to the pin. Where this hole is situated on the course it means that it will definitely be an important hole come Sunday.
The 18th is a great finishing hole, a 548 yard par five with the river all down the left from the tee and then in front of the green. It is possible to get home in two but it is risky. The lay up is not easy as there is water down the left and then the third shot is tough as it will be from about 100 yards to a sheltered green. This will be a very exciting hole all week and even more so on Sunday. A par is not a bad score here but it may be a hole that you have to try and birdie.
All in all I am happy with where my game is. It would have been nice to be coming in off a couple of better performances, but I am not worrying about it. As ever I will be trying my best to win!
After twenty-five years it feels great to be able to say that there has been an Irish winner of the Irish Open and even better to say that it is me! I came to Adare happy with the way I was swinging but not overly happy with my previous two performances. I knew that it was only a case of getting back into the swing of things as I had just taken my longest break since I turned pro. It was great going to Adare for the Irish Open as I had won the J.P. McManus pro-am there in 2005. It is a fantastic venue and one that I would be happy to play any event on, it certainly has the potential to be one of the best venues in the world. Coming into the week I was looking forward to playing the event but as ever with the Irish Open I knew that it would be tough as I have found over the years that I tend to try too hard. The fact that there hadn’t been an Irish winner for so long meant that all of the Irish players tended to be trying too hard to win it to please the crowd. This year I tried to take a more relaxed approach to it to the tournament, the fact that I was in the States for the TPC the week before probably helped as it meant that I was away from the hype and build up.
The course was set up very different to when I played here in 2005, this year the rough was like US Open style and the course had also been lengthened by 400 yards. I came down a few weeks before with two of my brothers and Ronan for a practice round and the course played very well but the weather was brilliant. For the tournament week the weather wasn’t great, there were strong winds and intermittent rain showers. Wednesday was probably the worst day as it rained nearly all day. In the pro-am we played the course from the back tees and it was extremely tough but thankfully the tour decided to move a few tees forward for the Thursday. In my first round I shot one over par, it wasn’t a bad score as the leader was on four under. I played extremely well but just couldn’t hole a putt, I had missed plenty of chances through 16 holes and then I made two good pars on the last two holes, I was in the rough on both the 17th and 18th. The two pars made me feel good about my round as I could easily have finished with two bogeys or worse from where I hit my drives. The second round I was out early, 7.50 am, which meant that I had to get out of my bed at 5.10am to go through my pre round preparation. When I got up it was miserable out, very windy and very wet. When I got to the range it was beginning to clear up and by the time I got to the tee it was bright and sunny. I played very well for the second round; I shot 68 to get to three under for the tournament. I could have shot anything on Friday as I gave myself plenty of chances and again missed several putts. I started on the back nine so it meant that I had two par fives in my last three holes. I was four under playing the seventh which was my 16th, I hit my second shot pin high just right of the green but didn’t get up and down, and then on my last hole I hit my second shot into the greenside bunker. From there I hit it to four feet and again missed. It was a slightly disappointing finish as I knew it could have been much better. However, by the end of the day I was leading by one shot, when I finished my round I wasn’t expecting to be leading but the weather got a bit worse in the afternoon and the conditions were a bit tougher.
I went into the weekend with a one shot lead, on Saturday I didn’t play quite as well as had done the first two day but I ended up shooting a 71 to go to four under for the week. This left me three shots clear of my nearest challengers. I started very well on Saturday making a birdie on the first hole, it looked like I was going to go on and shoot a great score but I had a tough patch around the 6th,7th and 8th. I missed the 6th green and made a bogey, then on the 7th I missed the fairway and got a bit aggressive with the lay up and hit it in the water. Luckily I was able to hit it from the water and give myself a chance of making a par but I thinned my pitch through the green and had to make a good chip and putt for bogey. Then on the 8th I had to make a good chip and putt for a par. From there on it was a bit better, I holed a few putts coming in and got myself to one under playing the last; on the 18th I had a six footer to go two under for the tournament but I just missed it. It would have been a nice one to get as it would have given me a four shot lead.
Sunday was always going to be a tough day as it is definitely harder to maintain a lead rather than chasing someone. The front nine went well for me; I made a birdie on the 7th which cancelled my bogey on the 5th. Then I hit it stiff on the 8th for another birdie to go to five under. On the 9th I hit a great drive and was left with a perfect five wood for my second which I hit to 12 feet and holed for an eagle to get to seven under. I still hadn’t looked at any leader boards yet; I had decided to wait till around the 13th. A three putt on the 11th put me back to six under and then a pulled drive on the 12th meant that I could go for it in two and had to play it as a three shotter. A par here against Bradley’s birdie meant that I was two ahead but I went three ahead again after Bradley made bogey on 13. Bradley birdied the 14th after chipping in which got him to one shot of me. On both 13th and 14th I holed two good putts for par, both from about 6 feet. Another birdie from Bradley on the 15th meant that I was only one ahead; however Bradley bogeyed the 16th to again restore my two shot advantage. The last two holes were where it all happened really, I hit a good three wood down the 17th and Bradley hit his drive into the rough on the right. From the rough Bradley stiffed it, I was hitting a little wedge which I pulled a fraction and missed the green. My chip ran 15 feet by and I missed which meant that we were tied going up the last. Neither of us really had chances of birdie but both made par which meant a play-off.
In regular play I hit a five wood off the 18th but in the play off I decided to go with driver in the hope off getting there in two. We both pushed out drives right so we had to chip out. They were hard chips as there was a over hanging tree. Bradley’s chip out ran into the hazard and mine stayed just short. Bradley tried to get over the water but didn’t and I hit mine onto the edge of the green. After a couple of hits in the water for Bradley it meant that I had two putts from two feet to win. It was great to win, I did feel a bit sorry for Bradley as he had played great but I know that it has happened to me many times over the years.
It is great to win my National Open, for me it is just behind winning a major. I stayed in Adare for the night to celebrate with a few friends, it is not often that you win an event let alone win one with all your friends around and so we enjoyed a good night Sunday. I head to Wentworth on Tuesday to try and see if I can win the bonus that is on offer if I win the BMW. For now though I am enjoying the feeling of being the first Irishman to win the Irish Open for 25 years.
Talk to you all soon and thanks for all the support during the week - it helps!