The season ending Volvo Masters is upon us again and I am back in Valderamma in very similar position to last year. I was over €200,000 behind Paul Casey last year and this year I much the same behind Ernie; the only difference is that Ernie is not here this week. It doesn’t seem like a year since I was here scrambling my way around the back nine to win the Order of Merit. As it turns out it was the start of a great year in my life; winning the Irish Open and The Open.
This years Volvo Masters has been over shadowed a bit by a tournament in Singapore as a number of players that were eligible to be playing here have decided to play in Singapore which is where Ernie Els is this week. I have been asked a lot about what I think of him not being here, but it’s not something that I am worried about. Ernie is honouring a commitment by being in Singapore; over the course of the year he has actually played more European Tour events than Justin and I, so he has comfortably met his commitment to the Tour. It also means that my job is a little bit easier by virtue of the fact that he is not here.
Valderamma has not been the best of courses for me over the years, although the last two years have definitely been my best performances. I have posted consecutive top tens; last years second place secured me the Order of Merit. So I am definitely coming here this week with more confidence about the course than I have had in any other year. I am also coming here off a win last week in the King Hassan II Trophy; my fourth win of the year. I am very happy with how everything is going and looking forward to the week.
Valderamma is one of the most famous courses in Europe and barely needs an introduction. The Tour has been coming here for many years and it has held World Golf Events and the Ryder Cup. Practically every European golfer knows Valderamma and its most famous hole; the par five 17th. This is a course where accuracy is key; it is definitely not a big hitter’s course. The key to performing well around this course is to be hitting your approach shots from the fairway and even more important on some of the holes is to be hitting from the right side of the fairway as there are many holes that you can hit the fairway and be blocked out by over-hanging branches of the thousand of cork trees that are on the course. This is one of the few courses that we play on Tour that measures under 7,000 yards, but it stills gets the best of the players every time. Nobody ever brings this course to its knees, it is normally the other way around; everyone knows that each hole can be a disaster just waiting to happen.
There are eighteen great holes on this course, each one can be a birdie chance and just as easily it can be a double bogey. The ones for me that are key are the 8th, 17th and 18th.
The eight is a short par four measuring 350 yards, normally a hole where this length provides a real birdie chance. We tend to hit drivers up to the edge and try to make a chip and putt, but not this hole. I find this one of the toughest holes on the course as it is always tough to hit the fairway, as there is nearly always a cross wind and the trees over-hang the fairway. I have made more bogeys on this hole throughout the years as I have struggled to hit the fairway. If you hit the fairway it is a good birdie opportunity but from the trees it is very hard to make par.
The 17th is the hole that everyone knows, a 536 yard par five with water in front of the green. It is reachable in two in the right conditions. The green is small and the water seems like it is nearly on the green; going for this in two can be the easy option as it is a tough pitch as the ball can spin back into the water very easily. This is a hole that you want to birdie but yet you are happy to make a par on.
The 18th is a really tough finishing hole as the trees over-hang the fairway a lot. The fairway doglegs left and then back again to the green. Again hitting the fairway here is key. I tend to lay it up further back as I find it easier to hit a five wood off the tee and then hit a longer club into the green. This is a hole that I would take four pars on and run. At 450 yards it is not long but it is a very tricky hole.
I arrived here on Sunday night and took Monday off to relax. On Tuesday I played nine holes and did a small amount of practise, nothing too major, mainly short game stuff. Wednesday I played the pro-am, which we won; this was my first full eighteen holes as it’s a course that I have played so often now that I know it well. I purposely didn’t do much during the week as I know that this week is more about being mentally fresh rather than trying to have your game in perfect condition. There is so much going on this week that the main thing is to be ready to play come Thursday.
I am looking forward to this week as I will be trying hard to defend my title of European No.1; I know it will be hard as I have to finish in the top three and finish ahead of any of the other key contenders that are in the field. It is never easy to turn up and finish in the top three let alone when you have to. As far as I am concerned the key is to try and get myself into contention on Sunday evening and then see what happens. If I can get myself into a position where I have a chance of winning the tournament then the Order of Merit matter will sort itself out. The main thing for me is not to get caught up thinking about the Order of Merit but to play my own game for the week and concentrate on the Volvo Masters. If I do this, I will be fine.
This week was definitely a case of what could have been as regards both the Volvo Masters and the Order of Merit. I came here needing to finish in the top three and ahead of Justin to retain my Order of Merit title from last year; unfortunately it wasn’t to be. All week I tried to get the Order of Merit out of my mind and just concentrate on getting myself into a position from where I had a chance to win the Volvo Masters; by concentrating on the tournament in hand it meant that the second job of where I finished in the year long title would look after itself.
It is certainly disappointing to have come up short, even though the Order of Merit is a season long race it invariably comes down to the last couple of weeks or, as in this case, the last week of the season. So to miss out by effectively a couple of shots can be hard, as a couple of shots over a year is nothing. When I finished on Sunday I was really disappointed as I only finished two shots outside of the play-off for the title and seeing as I finished one over par for the last three holes I knew that I had let a really good chance slip by. As ever it came down to a couple of putts in the end, whenever you get into contention in any tournament and don’t win you can always trace it back to a couple of putts here or there.
I knew having played the course in the pro-am that the scoring would not be great this year as the course was playing much tougher than last year; this meant that it was going to a long week as the key would be to try and keep mistakes off the card. This seemed like a great idea but it didn’t quite work out like that on Thursday; I started fine making pars at the first four holes. Then on the fifth hole it all went wrong. I hit my tee shot O.B. and proceeded to make a double bogey six. I followed this up with a three put bogey on the sixth and then another bogey on the seventh to put me to four over for the tournament and six shots behind Justin. A birdie and a par to finish the front nine left me on four over and I was in danger of drifting out of the tournament if I didn’t get my act together: I knew that there were 63 holes left and that over the course of the week I was going to have a few disasters and so all that happened was that I had them earlier than others. I needed something to happen on the back nine if I was to get back into it but with the wind that was blowing it was going to be tough. I managed to get myself back into the tournament by making five birdies and one bogey on the back nine to shoot one of my best level par rounds of my career. It left me three behind the lead but it felt so much better than level par. I came off the course feeling great.
Over the next two days I managed to shoot two more level par rounds. I didn’t feel as good about them as I did the first day but I was still happy with the rounds. I had let some chances slip by in both rounds but I felt that I had managed to get myself into contention for the last day. I was in the second to last two ball playing just in front of Justin who was leading the tournament by four shots from Simon Dyson and me. I started very well making a birdie on the first and then two solid pars; on the fourth I laid it up and pitched to six feet to give me a chance of my second birdie: However, my playing partner had gone for the green and had ended up in the bushes behind the green. Martin was going to take a drop that would have ended up with him getting disqualified so I recommended that he get a referee to sort it out. When the ref came he agreed that I was right with the drop and told him where he should drop but it still looked wrong to me. All this definitely put me off my stride; I missed my birdie putt and then three putted the next for a bogey. In the end I turned in one over par and looked like I was out of the tournament and the race for the order of merit. I didn’t give up but I knew that I needed things to happen for me, but I just couldn’t hole any putts. I missed good chances on the first three holes of the back nine, but on the 13th I holed putt for par to keep me on one over. The only putt that I holed came on the 15th for a birdie two; it got me to level par and within one shot of the lead for a few moments. However it was to be short lived, as my tee shot on the 16th stayed up on the right and left me blocked out for my second; in the end I had eight footer for birdie which I missed and then I missed a similar length putt for birdie on the 17th. A par on the last left me on one over par and in a share of fourth place and two shots behind the play-off.
It was disappointing as I had missed putts that could have got me into the play-off over the last couple of holes. Even if I was in the play-off it wouldn’t mean that I would have won the tournament or the Order of Merit but I at least I would have had another chance. In the end it was a disappointing week as I didn’t manage to do what I went there to do. It was a tight call and fair play to Justin on winning both the Order of Merit and the Volvo Masters; he played well and has done so all year. I would have liked to retain my title but it wasn’t to be. I head off to China for the HSBC Champions Tournament and the start of the 2008 European season.
Thanks for all your support during the season...Talk to you all soon!