It doesn’t seem like a year since I was here in St. Andrews winning the Dunhill but what a year it has been. After winning the Dunhill last year I went on to win the Order of Merit and then the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan, this was all at the end of last year. So far this year I have won three events, the Irish Open, the Irish PGA and the British Open. If only all years could be like this, I suppose that is what dreams are for!
I am back to defend my Dunhill Links Championship title and then hopefully retain my order of merit title, and I will also be trying hard to retain the team event title that I won here with J.P. last year. This is great week. There is so much going on that you tend to forget that there is a golf tournament to play in. As always this event is played over three courses; St. Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie. I always look forward to this event as I really enjoy the courses, and the format. This year will be somewhat special as it will be my first time back to Carnousite since I won the Open. It will be funny going, there will be no grandstands and it will probably play a bit different but I am sure I will be walking around thinking about the shots that I played. It will also be tough to concentrate on the job in hand which is this years Dunhill Links Championship; with everything that will be going on when I get there it is going to be tough to remember that I am actually playing a tournament, I’m hopping that J.P. will remind me.
I arrived here on Monday evening with the aim of playing both Kingsbarns and St. Andrews in practice, I reckoned that I didn’t need to play Carnousite. I played both courses in practice with a number of the Irish Amateurs that are playing this week; I have been looking forward to the matches for a few months now. The practice rounds are always good fun here as they are so different to normal weeks. The one drawback for me over the first few days is that I haven’t really got much done as there has been so many demands on my time. This has really been the case for me since the Open, I am not complaining though! I am gradually getting used to it but it does take time; I am normally the guy putting the most time in on the range and putting green but this week I have only managed 45 minutes if practice. This can be a good thing at times though so we will just have to wait and see.
I am coming here after a two week break, which was good as I needed to rest, and now I am back fully fit. Bob Torrance came over near the end of the second week for a day to work with me but we didn’t do much; he said that things were looking good, just a few minor things needed sorting but nothing major. The main problem with having a two week break is that I am now not really match fit. As I wasn’t expecting a two week break, there are probably a few cobwebs that will need ironing out due to not being able to play last week. However I have played a couple of competitive matches in practice which I am hoping will help get me ready.
Of the three courses I am going to say that the toughest is definitely Carnoustie, but it is also the one that most people will have fresh in their minds after seeing the Open this year. I only hope the I can stay focused when I am playing it this time. It definitely has the hardest 18th hole in golf.
Kingsbarns is a really good test, normally it can be one of the easier ones but that is because the par 5’s are normally reachable. The course plays much shorter than its yardage as the fairways run quite fast. If you get this course in decent weather then you feel that it is a good chance to make a move up the leaderboard.
St. Andrews is a course that everybody is familiar with. The key around this course is to try and miss the bunkers and to hit your pace putts well as you are guaranteed to have several long putts as there are quite a few double greens. This is the course that we play on Sunday, its one that all the pros know very well. However that can be a bad thing as we all remember the bad things that have happened to people over the years. One thing is for sure nothing is set in stone until you are through the road hole, no. 17.
As ever with this tournament the golfers are playing second fiddle to the celebrities that play, I have seen Dennis Hopper, Samuel Jackson and a number of other film stars around. There are a number of sporting greats also playing. It is definitely one of the best events on the European tour and any tour; I really enjoy playing and look forward to it every year. Being the defending champion and British Open Champion make it all the more enjoyable and the fact that I am trying to retain my Order of merit crown means that I have even more reason to play my best. I will be trying to get myself into contention come Sunday and see how I go from there.
My first tournament after a two week break is always a tough one for me as I have spent more time on technical practice than on mental practice. This week was no different, even though I managed to put together some decent rounds; all week I struggled with my routines and focus. This years Dunhill was as enjoyable as ever for me but it was tough work. I did manage to get myself into contention by Sunday but in the end my rustiness caught up on me in the end. The first three rounds were tough enough but I managed to get through them as you are not under the spot light like you are in a final round when you are trying to win a tournament. The first three rounds you are really just jockeying for position, it is not until you get into the final round that you really find out how you are standing.
My return to Carnoustie was somewhat funny, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The last time I was there I was getting photographed with the Claret Jug and in a state of shock. Coming back after three months I wasn’t sure whether I would be emotional or what. In the end it was fine, although it felt different as the grandstands were gone and the only signs of the Open were some areas that were reseeded due to damage from the crowd. There were a few people there to see me play but not too many as it was early on Thursday. The weather was fantastic and the course was in brilliant condition, unfortunately my game wasn’t quite up to the same level as the previous round that I played on the course. I ended up shooting a two under par round of 70; the 12th was played as a par five for this week. It could have been a bit better as I missed a few chances; it was only an average round as the weather was so good it was certainly possible to score. As I made my way around the course I found myself thinking about the shots that I hit during the week of the Open and in particular the final round; the shots that I was really happy with I tended to tell J.P. about; pointing where I was and what I did. We struggled in the team event and only managed to shot three under and we would have to improve substantially if we were to make the cut.
My second round was played on the Old Course; I was somewhat disappointed that they didn’t announce me onto the tee as the Open Champion. I had kind of thought that seeing as it is the home of the R&A that they would. I got over that quickly enough and got going, the weather was fantastic again; perfect for scoring. I played reasonable but not spectacular, however I still managed to shoot 66, I managed eight birdies and two bogeys. However when I finished I still felt like I had left shots out on the course. I had given myself plenty of chances and with the way the course was playing it felt like I should be making birdie on every hole. I was still in good position after two rounds, sitting on eight under. J.P. played well again and between us we managed nine under for a two round total of 12 under.
Kingsbarns was the last of the three courses for us and again it was perfect scoring conditions. My warm up didn’t go well and as a result I wasn’t feeling great on the course. My routines weren’t great and I feeling anxious over my shots. However I managed to get the best out of my game and shoot five under. I birdied all of the par fives even though I didn’t hit any of them in two. I was in range on three of them but hit poor second shots that left me in a bit of trouble but I managed to get up and down on them all. I made six birdies in all with one bogey on the fourth hole after a three putt from 15 feet. In the end I missed from eight feet on the last hole to get into a tie for second spot on 14 under. On top of this J.P. and I shot nine under to make the cut in the team event, although we were a long way off the lead.
The final round didn’t go anything like I had hoped for; I dropped a shot on the second after missing a five foot putt and then I missed from six feet on the next for birdie. This seemed to set the tone for my day, I was struggling with my focus as I had been all week but it was little worse today. I was also struggling to trust my reading of the greens which was leaving me with very little confidence over my putts. A two putt birdie on the fifth got me back to level par; another bogey was cancelled out by a birdie on the ninth. I turned in level par for the day and remained four behind the leader; I went with driver down the tenth to try and drive the green but I hooked it left and lost my ball. This cost me a double bogey and effectively put me out of the tournament. I made one more birdie and the rest pars coming in to end up shooting one over par to finish on 12 under and a tie for 8th. It was disappointing to finish like this as anytime you get yourself into contention it is always disappointing when you don’t perform as you would like. We didn’t do anything in the team either. J.P. played great but I wasn’t enough help to him.
All in all it was tough week but then if all my tough weeks could be like this one then it would be fine. The big story of the week was the great performance of Rory McIlroy, who finished on 15 under par for the week to be third on his own and win enough money to get him his tour card for next year. It was an amazing achievement to win his card in only two professional starts; it is great for him and great for Irish golf. I look forward to seeing him on tour next year.
Talk to you all soon