After a week off from tournament play I am back in the states for three weeks. This run of events includes the second major of the year, the US Open. I am playing the Stanford St. Jude Championship in Memphis this week, the US Open next week, and then the Travelers Championship the week after. It was great to have a week, even though I had a number of commitments during it, I enjoyed a week away from tournaments. It was a chance to recharge the batteries and get myself ready for this trip. I traveled out on Sunday as I was playing in an exhibition match with Retief Goosen against Jim Furyk and Charles Howell In Philadelphia on Monday. Retief and I won on the 17th, the golf was very good in the match; a lot of birdies which is always good when it is being played for fun.
This is my first time playing in the St. Jude Championship, in the past few years it was played in August when I have taken a week off. This year due to the Fed Ex cup and the shuffling of events it has been moved to the week before the US Open and so I am here preparing for next week, but still trying hard to win this week.
I arrived here on Monday night after playing the Exelon challenge on Monday in Philadelphia. It was great to play the exhibition as it was quite competitive and so after a week off it was a nice way to build up for a three week run. Tuesday was my first time seeing the course, in the morning I spent a couple of hours practicing my short game while my clubs were checked for loft and lies. I always get this done after a week off just to make sure that nothing has happened to them. Having gotten my clubs back and warmed up I went and played the course. I am not really sure what I was expecting but the course definitely exceeded my expectations, it is a really good course and set up great - It is a course that I would love to have beside my home. The greens are smaller than we are used to nowadays and they are firm; they are Bermuda grass greens which means that they have a lot of grain in them. Around the greens they have cut the rough away and made it fairway so that the ball runs away rather than it getting stuck in heavy rough just off the edge. This means that it is important that you can chip well as you are faced with a number of different shots, not just the normal lob shot from rough.
I played eighteen holes on Tuesday and then the pro-am on Wednesday. The more I play the course the more I like it. On Wednesday morning I spent quite a bit of time practicing my short game again, this will be key this week and next week so I am trying to do as much as I can on it. As usual I am spending a lot of time on mental game also, I know that the more time I spend on my mental game the better prepared I am for every week.
The course measures 7,244 yards and plays as a par 70. It is set up with minimal rough but firm greens. It is fairly well lined with trees, a number of the holes have trees down both sides. I am happy to be playing a tournament on this weeks’ course, and I feel that I have a good chance. In previous years they have played this as a par 72 and the scoring was very good but as a par 70 last year the winner shot 9 under. On the face of it the course doesn’t seem that tough but the real difficulty is around the greens as they are small and firm. There are a number of really good holes on this course; the ones that I see as being key this week are the 14th, 16th and 18th.
The 14th is a 239 yard par three with water on the right. The tee is elevated and with the firmness of the greens it is very hard to hold the green let alone get near a pin. A three here is a great score.
The 16th is a 530 yard par five; it plays uphill but is well within reach. As with a lot of holes here it is not getting to the green that is the problem but around the green. It is a small green that is well bunkered; this is a hole that you feel you should birdie but one that could cause a lot of problems as the green is quite well protected.
The 18th is as ever a vital hole as it is the last but here it is also a tough hole. It is a dogleg par four measuring 453 yards, the landing area is very narrow and there are bunkers off the right of the fairway. This is a tough hole to need to par to win, there is trouble left and the traps right are no easy shot. The water carries on up to the green and so a par here is a good score. I reckon that this will have a few victims this week.
All in all this is a course that I like, I would be happier if I was coming into this event having played a tournament last week but there is nothing that I can do about that. I am here first and fore most to play well and try to win this event but in the back of my mind I am preparing for next week also. I am happy with my game as I have been for a while now; the key for me is to get my mental game to the same level. If I could mange this then I would be very confident in every event that I play. As ever I am looking to get myself into contention come Sunday and then take my chances from there. I am paired with Retief and Sean O’Hair for the first two days, we play at 12.27 (6.27pm) on Thursday and 7.27am (1.27pm) on Friday.
My build up to the US Open didn’t quite go as planned; missing the cut here in Memphis wasn’t what I was looking for. As I was saying in my preview I was here trying to win but with an eye on Oakmont. I always like to get some competitive practice in before a major so missing the cut here this week is particularly disappointing for me. The annoying thing about missing is that I actually played well; I felt that I had a good chance here this week.
I played late on Thursday and early on Friday; the conditions were pretty much the same for most of the first two days. It was windy which made the course play particularly tough. The first day was the windier of the two; I started well making pars on the first two holes and then a birdie on the 3rd after hitting the green in two with my hybrid. Even though it was very windy the ball was still going through it, I hit a nice five iron which flew through the wind and the green. Luckily I was chipping back into the wind which made my chip much easier, I hit a good shot to a foot for another par. Over the next three holes I made two bogies to drop back to one over which wasn’t too bad. I turned in one over but then on the back nine I had a couple of disasters which I wasn’t able to recover from. Double bogies on the 12th and the 14th meant that I was really struggling; the double on the 12th came from missing the green left and then not reaching the green with my chip shoot and then taking three more from the edge. On the 13th I stiffed my second shot to get one back but then on the 14th I hit my tee shot in the water and then three putted for another double bogey. Pars to finish meant that I shot a round of four over, 74.
I knew heading out that I had to shot a solid round to make the cut, I was confident heading out that I would be fine. I started with a par on the 10th and then another disaster hit me on the 11th, my tee shot came up short in the water which resulted in my third double bogey of the tournament. I birdied the 14th and the 3rd to get me back to four over for the tournament, at this stage I was in a strong position to make the cut. However two missed putts on the next two holes put me back to six over; on the 4th I missed from 4 feet for par and then on the 5th I missed the green and chipped to 6 feet but missed again. I knew that I had to make a birdie coming in if I was to make the cut. I held a good putt for par on the 7th and then on the 8th I hit a seven iron to 20 feet and holed for birdie. On the 9th I pushed my tee shot into the rough and had just reached my ball when the hooter went to sound suspension of play for bad weather. It was bad timing for me as I was just after making a birdie to get to five over which I reckoned would be the cut and I also I had a trip to Graceland organized. It was a three hour delay which meant that I missed Graceland, when I came back out the wind had died, I hit a nine iron for my second but didn’t quite catch it and it came up short and rolled back into the water and cost me a bogey and I ended up missing the cut by a shot.
I was very disappointed to miss the cut, especially because of the way it happened. I spent the rest of the day practicing my putting and short game in preparation for the US Open. I went to see Graceland on Saturday afternoon before I flew to Oakmont. I have to say that the tour was really good and it helped take my mind off of missing the cut. Sunday was spent playing Oakmont, my first view of the course. It certainly is as tough as they say!
Talk to you all next week from Oakmount!