I am back to work this week. It has been hard getting back into things as the last ten days have been great. It feels like it has been one big party mixed in with interviews. When I got on the plane to come to Firestone it actually felt good because it meant that I could take some time to thing about what had happened the last week. It was tough to leave the celebrations behind but it was also necessary as there is still a long way to go in my season. I still have to pinch myself to make sure that I am not dreaming everything that happened; I am actually the Open Champion!
I arrived in Akron on Sunday, which has been the home of the Bridgestone Invitational since the inception of the World Golf Championship events. I have been very busy since I arrived as this is my first week back; all the television channels, papers and magazines have been looking to get their interviews done. It seems like all I have done since arriving is interviews and photos, but as I keep saying ‘it’s a nice reason to be in demand.’ The thing is that everyone dreams about winning a major but you never think about the aftermath, how much things change; suddenly there are so many demands on your time. It is great being the centre of attention as everyone wants to talk about the Open and that is one thing that I will never tire of talking about.
However I am here to play a big tournament and that is the most important thing for me this week. I am under no illusions as to how tough this week will be as I haven’t been able to prepare as I would normally. Having said that I have four rounds to play and the goal is to try and get myself into contention come Sunday. The other important thing for me this week is to get myself ready for next week so that when I turn up at Southern Hills for the US PGA I don’t have as much work to do to prepare. I have played 25 holes in practice this week, seven on Tuesday and eighteen on Wednesday; the reason that I played so few over Monday and Tuesday is due to all the media commitments that I had. I felt that it was better to get them done early in the week so that I could spend Wednesday concentrating on my game and getting ready for the tournament. I know that my preparation has not been what I would like for this week but I knew coming here that it not be like turning up normally. I have just rolled with it and tried not to get stressed about it, I am enjoying the fact that I am the Champion Golfer of 2007. On Wednesday I played the eighteen holes; it is a course that I have been coming to since 1999 so I know it fairly well. They have lengthened two holes from last year, the 8th (by 30 yards) and the 9th (by 20 yards) but other than that there are no changes which is nice.
At over 7,300 yards this is as tough a par 70 as you will come across. It plays very like a US Open course as the rough is very penal. There are only two par fives and only one of them is on in two which makes birdies hard to come by. This year the course is playing quite firm which makes it even tougher than normal as it is hard to get close to the pins. This is a course where driving is key, if you can get yourself on the fairway it gives you a better chance to take on the pins, if you miss the fairways then it is very hard to make it to the greens in regulation. This is a very good course but one that I have struggled on over the years. My best performance here over the years has been a tie for 12th, the last couple of years I have finished in the mid twenties. Even though it is a course that I like I have struggled on it as I find it a very tough course. There are courses like that though, some people find them easier than others; this is just one of those courses that I struggle to see good scores on.
This is a week that I have historically struggled and I don’t see why it should be any different this week. I see this as a very tough course and this week I haven’t been able to prepare as I would like too. The early rounds will be the toughest for me as it has been almost two weeks since I played a competitive round. Normally it is tough enough for me after a break but considering that I haven’t played or practiced it makes it even harder. If I can get through the first couple of rounds then the weekend should be a lot easier. While I am trying to get into contention come Sunday, the main thing about this week for me is that I have four competitive rounds under my belt before I go to the PGA next week.
My first tournament since the Open is over; it was tough to get back to playing after the week of celebrations. All week I was looking forward to my first tee shot, well not so much the first tee shot, but being announced on the tee as the Open Champion. However, it wasn’t how I expected it. I was gutted when they announced me as Padraig Harrington from Ireland. I was so looking forward to hearing “Padraig Harrington, 2007 Open Champion.” Anyway my tournament started disappointingly because of this.
I had my best finish here in Akron this week, a tie for 14th on five over par; it’s not my best score around this course but my best finishing position. Coming here I didn’t really know what to expect from this week as I came here as unprepared as I have ever been. I don’t think that I have ever turned up to any other tournament in my career, either as a pro or an amateur as unprepared as I was for this event. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my game, I know it seems funny to say it but a week away from the game is a lot for me.
For the first two rounds of the tournament I played with Boo Weekly and Darren Clarke, even though I was disappointed that I wasn’t introduced as the Open champion I did manage to get going well enough. I made a couple of solid pars on the 10th and 11th, then on the 12th after a bad tee shot, I chipped in for a birdie. I made a few more pars and it was all going nicely, almost picking up were I left off! However as the round went on the rustiness came out, I was struggling to hit fairways and with the heavy rough on this course missing fairways is not the ideal way to make a score. Even though I was struggling off the tee I was hanging in there by holing out well, by the time I reached my 18th hole I was one over par for the day which was hard to believe. I hit a good drive this time but it was unlucky to miss the fairway and left me up against the collar of the semi and the rough. From here I pulled my second into the bunker and then didn’t get it up and down. It was a disappointing finish but it was still a good score considering the way I played. Friday was much the same as Thursday; I miss a lot of fairways again and managed to keep myself in it by chipping and putting well. This time on the 18th I managed to hole a long putt for birdie to shoot one under for the day and lie on one over for the tournament.
The weekend brought much of the same. I struggled a bit in hitting fairways and as a result the greens. However I did hit some very good iron shots at times as well. On Saturday I started well, a birdie on the 1st, 3rd and then another on the 5th put me three under for the day and two under for the week, as it turns out I was really in the tournament at this stage. However it was to be short lived, a bad drive and then a three putt on the 6th cost me a double bogey and then another three putt on the 7th cost me another bogey and meant that I had handed back all the shots that I had made up. Two more dropped shots meant that I signed for a 72, two over par. Normally if you shoot two over on a Saturday you drop down the leader board rapidly but not this week, I actually moved up a position. On Sunday I shot another 72, again I had some good holes and some bad ones. A double bogey on the 13th after a couple of hacks in the rough was the worst of them, however four birdies on holes 2, 8, 9 and 16 meant that I held my position and finished in a tie for 14th. It could so easily have been better considering the fact that I had dropped so many shots but then it could have been much worse considering that I hit less than 50% of the fairways for the week.
Looking back on the week I was happy to finish where I did, I definitely made the most of my game this week. Considering where I put myself off the tee I did well to finish 14th. It was a good week to come and play before the US PGA as there was no cut and it meant that I got four rounds of competitive play in before the final major of the year. The areas of my game that I will have to do a bit work on before Thursday are my driving and my chipping, however the flip side is that my wedge play has improved since I have been focusing on it in practice. The main thing that I have to work on for next week is my routines and mental approach, I was a little rusty with this side of my game this week but considering all that has happened in the last two weeks I wasn’t surprised at this.
So all in all this was a successful week as it gave me a few things to work on before the PGA kicks off on Thursday, and it helped to brush away a few of the cobwebs. As is always the case for me, the week before a major I am trying hard to play well and win but I am also thinking about the week ahead. There is no doubt I would like to be going to Southern Hills a little more prepared but then I wouldn’t swap being more prepared for my Open crown. I have three days to get myself ready and then the search for a second major begins!
Talk to you all next week at Tulsa!