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Barclay's Scottish Open

Barclays Scottish Open, 7-10 July 2005

As most of you will know, I was wavering a bit on whether to play at Loch Lomond last week. But you know something, I'm really glad I played. Not just because the Scottish is a great tournament on one of my favourite golf courses, but because I felt like I made serious steps forward in my game. I made a lot of good swings and hit a lot of solid shots. The only department of my game which let me down was my putting; I couldn't buy a putt all week. But that's just one of those things; and I know I can put that right in a heartbeat. The most important thing is I feel much more confident than I did, say, going into the US Open. I tell you, I'm really looking forward to the Open this week.

For now, let me just talk you through my performance at Loch Lomond. I didn't arrive until Wednesday morning; just in time to tee it up in the pro am. I think it probably took me the best part of a day to find my normal rhythm, which meant I missed a few too many fairways in the first round and wasn't able to take advantage of the ideal scoring conditions. Still, 70 wasn't a terrible start. Once I got into my stride I played better and better as the week went on. On Friday I hit the ball very solidly and shot a five-under par 66; a good day's work.

On Saturday I could have really put myself in the hunt for the title. I hit the ball great and gave myself so many chances it was unbelievable. But as I was saying in my introduction, I couldn't buy a putt all day. I maybe got a bit frustrated towards the end of the round and just lost my concentration on the 18th tee, making my only bad swing of the day and hitting it in the water for a double-bogey six. That was a shame. I mean, 63 or 64 was on the cards that day, with the way I was hitting the ball.

Sunday was much the same, to be honest with you. I couldn't have shot a worse score than 68. That put me on 13-under par and 11th place. In one sense, it was a bit disappointing because I felt like I played well enough to win this week. Of course that's not to take anything away from my fellow countryman Tim Clark, who played great and deserved this victory. Well done to him; he's been in good form this year.

Any slight disappointment from yesterday afternoon is totally forgotten this morning, though. I've gained a lot of confidence from the way I played over the weekend and this week I've got a great chance.

Coming up this week...

Does anyone need reminding what's happening this week? I don't think so. It's the 134th Open Championship at the Home of Golf, St Andrews. It doesn't get any better than this. I've been coming here every year since 1992, for Dunhill Cups, dunhill links championships and obviously two Opens also, and I feel as though I know it almost like a second home.

I love the atmosphere. Golf means everything at St Andrews, but in many ways there's not nearly as much fuss as there is at most of the other major championships. I like that. We're staying in the same room at the fantastic Old Course hotel, so everything's nice and familiar. The only changes are to the golf course itself, which I'll come to in more detail in a minute. This Monday morning I'll have the chance to check the course out for myself for the first time. I'll probably play nine holes before lunchtime. The weather is absolutely incredible. I've never seen anything like it here. It's like a South African summer. Even more reason for the Els family to feel very much at home!

Anyway, for those of you who aren't familiar with what's been done to the Old Course, I can tell you that by moving some tees they've managed to extend the yardage, as they have done on many occasions for this championship in the modern era. It now measures 7,279 yards. It'll be interesting. I mean, if the wind blows then these changes will make a huge difference. If it's calm, it probably won't really affect things too much. We'll see.

Perhaps the biggest change is to the par-5 14th hole where the tee has been moved back almost 40 yards, which brings into play the fearsome clutch of bunkers known as the 'Beardies'. That in turn makes Hell bunker a bit more of a factor on your second shot – it's the size of a tennis court and not the sort of bunker you want to mess with, believe me! It's a great hole and, at 618 yards, officially the longest on the Open Championship rota.

One thing is certain; distance is going to be a big factor this week. In fact, aside from trying to stay out of the bunkers, driving and putting are going to be the two key factors, I think. I've got the weapon I need off the tee. And on the greens…well, as I was saying, I didn't hole anything at Loch Lomond, but it's not something I'm worried about coming into this week. It's all about a state of mind. My stroke is what it is; there's nothing technically wrong and I'm striking the ball well. What I'm going to be working on between now and Thursday's first round is getting myself into a mindset where I can mentally picture the ball going into the hole - basically, being positive as I stand over the putt. That's the key.

I just love links golf, though. I feel comfortable on this type of golf course. It suits my game. And I think I can adapt to the different conditions, if I have to. The two Opens I've played here at St Andrews I've got a pretty good record; I had a great chance to win in '95 but putted badly in the final round. Then I was second here in 2000. One better this year would be very nice!

I'll write next week and give you the full inside story.

Until then, I hope you enjoy what is one of the best weeks of the year. And with this being Jack Nicklaus's last Open, and possibly his last ever competitive tournament, it's going to be even more special. You don't want to miss it!
Ernie's Stats Summary (European Tour 2005)
Tournament: Barclays Scottish Open
Scores: 70, 66, 67, 68 - 271, 13-under par, 11th
Tournaments Played: 10
Prize Money: 980,680 euros
Position on Money List: 4th
Stroke Average: 69.58 (ranked 1st)
World Ranking: 3

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