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Bay Hill Invitational

Ernie Els
Bay Hill Invitational, 17-20 March 2005
Considering how confident I was about my game going into Bay Hill, it ended up being a disappointing week. A second round 77 was the main problem, it basically killed my chances. After two rounds I was right on the cut line. One shot worse and I’d have been driving home early again, for the second year running at this event. It’s very strange.

The weather caused some serious problems at the start of the week and it was a game of catch-up from there on for everyone. The rough was thick and the greens were a little bit slower than normal, which meant the scores were higher than usual at this tournament. Also, I think when there is a lot of disruption it‘s harder to get into a rhythm.

Anyway, we got something like three hours play on Thursday, before the heavens opened and dumped 2 inches of rain on to the golf course in one afternoon! I’d made a rough start to my round, bogeying the first two holes. By the time play was suspended, I’d steadied things down a little bit. But I wasn’t playing well, to be honest.

I played a little better when we resumed our second rounds on Friday, but didn’t make any putts until three late birdies on 15, 16 and 17, which kind of saved the day. In the end, I was fairly pleased with a 71. It could have easily been a couple of shots worse.

Trouble was, because of the rain delays, Friday came and went and I hadn’t even started my second round. So it was an early morning call on Saturday and we were on the tee shortly after 7.00am. When we did get started, it was the kind of round I’d rather forget. I hit it in the water twice to make a triple-bogey on one hole, then a few holes later hit it out of bounds to make double-bogey. It was only a birdie on my penultimate hole, the par-4 8th, which saved me. Without that, as I was saying in the introduction, I’d have been heading home.

So, not a good situation. But at least I was around for the weekend, with a chance to make some progress up the leader board. Starting on the 10th in my third round, I birdied 14, 15 and 16 and apart from a couple of mistakes on the front nine, I played okay to shoot 69.

Then in the final round I made an early birdie which I followed up with an eagle-three around the turn, to get to three-under for the tournament and in with a chance of a top-10 finish, which actually would have been a decent result considering I’d only just made the cut. But I threw in another double-bogey and could shoot no better than a 70, which left me at one-under par for the tournament in a tie for 23rd place. As I said, disappointing.

I don’t think it was any one department of my game which let me down. Basically, my game just wasn’t sharp enough, plus I had some big numbers on a couple of holes, which is unusual for me. But hey, it happens. You can’t beat yourself up about it. You just try to learn from it. Overall, my game still feels in good shape.

Coming up this week . . .

I don’t imagine I need to remind golf fans what’s happening this week. It’s the Players Championship at Sawgrass, probably the biggest tournament of the year, outside of the four major championships. Not only is it as strong a field as you’ll see all year, but the golf course creates plenty of drama, especially on the famous par-3 17th. Again, no need to remind you about that hole. From a spectator’s point of view, it must be about as good as it gets. Let me tell you, if the wind is blowing about a bit, it’s pretty exciting for us players, too!

I haven’t got the best record here, unfortunately. Don’t ask me why that is, because I can’t really put my finger on it. I’ve had plenty of good scores over the 12 years that I’ve been coming here; I just haven’t quite put it together over the full four rounds. Last year in particular I started well, but my game left me a bit over the weekend and I played a horrible last round to fall well off the pace.

Enough of that, though. What I do know is that Pete Dye’s Stadium Course is an unforgiving golf course. It’s not massively long, at least not by modern standards, but it is very demanding, with not much margin for error to speak of. It really punishes mediocre golf shots and for that reason it’s not the type of layout where you can ‘get away with it’ if you know what I mean. It’s a ball-strikers golf course .

Driving is probably the biggest key. You’ve got to hit your ball in the fairways, because the greens are usually very firm and fast, and the pin positions tend to be fairly tight. In other words, you need to be hitting your approach shots from the fairway, otherwise you haven’t got the control of your spin and ball flight that you need in order to get the ball close and set-up birdie opportunities.

This year I’ve been driving the ball well, so if I can get off to a nice solid start I fancy my chances. I’ll write again next week and fill you in.

Bye for now.
Ernie's Stats Summary (PGA Tour 2005)
Tournament: Tournament: Bay Hill Invitational
Scores: 71, 77, 69, 70 - 287, 1-under par, T23rd
Tournaments Played: 4
Prize Money: $1,060,783
Position on Money List: 11th
Stroke Average: 69.42
World Ranking: 3

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