The season is coming to an end, the Volvo Masters is just around the corner and then the tournaments start up for the 2008 European Tour. However my season still has a few more events to go, as I play five more tournaments before Christmas. This week I am in Morocco for the King Hassan II Trophy. I played this tournament in my first year as a pro and have always wanted to come back since, but it just hasn’t fitted into my schedule. This year it worked perfectly as I am playing the Volvo Masters next week and so it is an easy trip from Morocco to Malaga and it means that I am playing competitive golf the week before an important event.
The King Hassan II Trophy is a pro-am tournament with only 24 male professionals in the field. There is also a ladies tournament going on as well but it is on a different course. The pro-am part of the event starts on Wednesday and finishes on Saturday; our tournament runs the normal four days, Thursday to Sunday, and we play Sunday without the amateurs.
I arrived here in Rabat on Tuesday morning and played a practice round Tuesday and then played the pro-am on Wednesday. I played here back in 1997 but couldn’t remember a huge amount about the course coming here, but when I played it again it came back to me. It really is one of the better courses that we play all year. It is tree lined and has very small greens; something that we just don’t see enough of anymore. I have spent the last few days at home doing a bit of practice and making a few small adjustments to my swing, so I haven’t been doing much practice since I got here. I warmed up on Tuesday and then played, as I know from experience that the best thing I can do at an event is stay away from the range and play the course, as it makes me think more about how to play the course rather than my swing. On Wednesday I played the pro-am which I always enjoy as it means that I am trying to hole putts and have to really try and get myself into game mode. However on 7th hole of the pro-am I hurt my neck while hitting my drive; it’s an old injury but the problem is that I don’t have my physio with me this week. I haven’t had this problem for a while, not since the Monday of the Open. It normally takes a few days to clear up so to get it on a Wednesday is very annoying as it will definitely affect me over the first couple of days. It means that I am only able to hit three quarter shots rather than hitting them full out.
The golf course is definitely one of the best that we play anywhere all year. It is an old course that is tree lined and has plenty of length. They don’t use the full length for this week as the fairways are a little soft. The course was designed in 1971 and still measures the same length now as it did then, just over 7,300 yards. There are several great holes on this course, ones that will really test us over the four days. One of the toughest holes is the 9th; a par three measuring over 185 yards to an island green. The thing that really makes it tough for me is that the tee box does not aim at the green; it aims to the right of it so I find it very hard to line up. In my practice rounds it has played a five iron and a seven iron, so depending on the wind it can be a very tough hole. Another good hole is the last; it is a 555 yard par five that plays uphill. It is on in two if you get a good drive away but if not it is a definite three shoter. However it is not straight forward this way either as the green is small with a bunker built into the front of it and has several tricky pin placements. To show how tough this hole can be, Sam Torrance had a six to win the event last year and ended up taking seven to end up in a play off which he won. It is definitely a hole that you want to make a birdie on but by trying too hard to make birdie you can easily walk away with a disaster.
The great thing about this tournament is that it is somewhat relaxed as there is no cut and it is a pro-am format. It does not mean that the players don’t want to perform well but as it is not a regular tour event it tends to mean that everyone is just that little bit more relaxed. I always enjoy playing in pro-am events as it gives me another competition to take my mind off my score. Also it means that you get to meet some very interesting people. My pro-am partners from Wednesday took Ronan and I out for dinner to a restaurant that one of them owned, a traditional Moroccan restaurant. It was really good and we had a great time. We got to see a bit of the old city and experience some traditional Moroccan culture which was nice as we would not normally be able to do this.
Even though it is not a regular tour event I am still here trying to win and as always the best way for me to do that is to play my own game and not get caught up in trying too hard. I have to remain patient and accept that it is a four day event. If I can do this then it gives me my best chance of getting into contention come Sunday afternoon.