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THE PLAYERS Championship

The Players Championship, 24-28 March 2005

There were times last week when it seemed like Mother Nature really didn't want us to finish this year's Players Championship. But I have to say the organisers and greens staff did a great job keeping the course playable. And finally, on a bright and very breezy Monday afternoon, we all got to finish our fourth rounds. For me, it was close to being a good week, ruined by three or four nightmare holes. Seems like I nearly always have one bad round in this event. It's cost me in previous years and it did here again in the third round. But that's the type of golf course this is. It really tests you. If you like your golf full of drama, Pete Dye is your man. On any day it's easy to make a big number here, but when the weather turns like it did on Monday for the final round, anything is possible. As it happens I saved my best golf for the toughest day, so at least I finished the tournament on a high note, even if the end result (a tie for 17th place), wasn't what I'd have hoped for.

Anyway, let's take you through what turned out to be quite a chaotic week. I think there were times when even the players were wondering what day it was and what round we were playing. It was stop-start all the time, with torrential rain, lightning, and some rounds taking a couple of days to complete.


First round conditions were actually very good. I mean, the golf course was already softer than it usually is, because of all the rain we'd had in the weeks leading up to this event, which made scoring easier. That was helped by the fact that the greens were a bit softer than normal, too. They were putting beautifully as well. Although I hit a lot of solid shots, my one-under par 71 was almost a missed opportunity. I started nicely, with a couple of early birdies, but I let it go a bit coming in.

The second round was where the weather turned nasty on us. I think we had something like 40 minutes' play, before it was abandoned for the day. I was on my way to making what looked like being a double bogey on my first hole, before the siren went. At the end of the day, a decision was made to wipe the slate clean, which meant I got a second chance to start my second round on Saturday morning. And I made a par that time. Unfortunately, the double-bogey came later. Things weren't going well at that point. I even managed to accidentally hit my playing partner, Lee Janzen, with a chip-out sideways. I shouted ‘fore', but it was too late. Ricci thought my ball was going to hit him in the head, but luckily it bounced first and hit him gently on the leg. He was okay. Just a bit surprised, I guess!

Around the turn I was one-over par for the tournament, which was the wrong side of the cut line. So in a way I was pleased to come in with three birdies and no bogeys, to finish the day with a second consecutive 71 and a two-under par aggregate. That made the cut by a shot, which isn't the kind of golf I want to be playing. But as I said at Bay Hill, at least if you're around at the weekend you get the chance to try to make up some ground.

What with all the delays, the third round was scheduled to start early on Sunday morning and I made a decent start, getting to two-under after eight holes, before play was suspended and later abandoned for the day...again. It was incredibly disruptive and frustrating for everyone - the players, the tournament officials and obviously the fans as well. In fact, it's really tough for them because when the siren goes for lightning, they're stranded out on the golf course. It was the kind of week when you definitely needed a lot of patience.

So we came back on Monday morning, nice and early again, to finish our third rounds. And I walked straight into a double-bogey start on the 18th, followed by a triple-bogey on the 1st. That was my tournament finished right there, basically. A 6 and a 7 on two par-4s. I couldn't believe it. It scrambles your brain a bit, and I think I stuck with it pretty well, considering. I managed to play my final eight holes in one under par to limit the damage to a 74.

It was disappointing, though, because without those two disaster holes I'd have been going into the final round that afternoon with a chance of making an early run at the leaders. But as I said a bit earlier in this report, it's the sort of thing that can happen on this golf course. And some suffered more than I did. I hear Bob Tway got to the 17th, right in touch with the leaders, and made a 12! Poor guy.


It's so easy to have a big number out there. And not just on the obvious holes, like 17 and 18. There are a lot of other danger holes where you can miss one shot and make double-bogey, or worse, in the blink of an eye. Especially when conditions are like they were on Monday, with the wind gusting up to 30-40mph, and some tight final day pin positions. It could hardly have been more difficult.

All in all I was really pleased with my last round 69, which included seven birdies, one of which was a two on the 17th, where the wind was howling across from left to right. A birdie there felt like an eagle!

I think by the end of the day there were only four sub-70 scores, with Tom Lehman's brilliant 68 being the low score. The average score was nearly 77, and 16 guys didn't even break 80, which just about sums up how brutal it was. I struck the ball well, though, and for the first time in the tournament I got things going with my putter. That did my confidence a lot of good.

Coming up this week...

I'm taking this week off and staying at our house in Florida, basically so I can spend some time preparing for the Masters next week. Obviously having won a couple of times in the desert earlier this month, my game is in pretty good shape overall. I feel like I'm swinging the club well and hitting a lot of solid golf shots. But I just haven't quite put it all together these past two weeks in Florida, so there are a couple of little things I want to work on between now and travelling to Augusta.

The second annual Tavistock Cup match between Lake Nona and Isleworth was due to start on Monday and run for two days, but obviously the delays in concluding the Players Championship put a bit of a dent in the schedule. It's now basically a one-day event, with 16 singles matches being played today. The first team to reach eight-and-a-half points wins the cup this year.

Last year at Lake Nona it was the away team who took the honours. This year, me and the rest of the Lake Nona team will be trying to return the compliment on their turf. I'll tell you all about it in next week's report, although by then you may have seen it on television. It's a bit of competitive fun, but also has a serious goal in providing as much money as possible for charity. In 2004 I believe something like half a million dollars was donated to a cancer centre in the Orlando area.

I'll write again at the start of next week and give you the full low-down on my preparations for the first major championship of the year.

Oh, and by the way, just before I finish this report I thought I'd mention the fact that I've just updated the ‘In the Bag' section of my website, so if you're interested in this kind of thing, you can read about the clubs I'm using right now.

Bye for now.

Ernie
Ernie's Stats Summary (PGA Tour 2005)
Tournament: Tournament: The Players Championship
Scores: 71, 71, 74, 69 - 285, 3-under par, tied-17th
Tournaments Played: 5
Prize Money: $1,172,783
Position on Money List: 13th
Stroke Average: 69.52
World Ranking: 3


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