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On the Road with Ernie: Ford Championship

Ernie came all the way back from 98th position to finish T7 at the Ford Championship, thanks to a stellar round Friday and solid play over the weekend. It's never too early to prepare for the season's first major and Ernie plans to get in some practice this week at Augusta. Read all about it in this week's edition of On the Road with Ernie...

T7th - Ford Championship at Doral, 2-5 March 2006

After a first round 72, which put me in a tie for 98th place, it was always going to be a long climb back up the leaderboard at Doral. So finishing tied-7th – you know, in some ways I’ve got to be pretty satisfied with that. And I really hit a lot of good iron shots this week. The trouble was, too many of them went unrewarded. I struggled a bit on the greens, which is obviously frustrating, but on the other hand I felt like I made some good progress in my game this week. I've got some positive swing thoughts to work on between now and Bay Hill, so I'm heading in the right direction.

As I was saying, the first round killed me. Shooting 72 on a day when scoring conditions were perfect was very disappointing. The thing was, I got off to a good start from the 10th tee with an early birdie, but had four bogeys in the space of nine holes and really had to work hard to avoid a total disaster. This was a day when I basically didn't hit enough greens in regulation and didn’t make enough putts. I had some serious work to do on Friday to make sure I'd be here for the weekend.

Making My Move

And some serious work I did! Friday was a big improvement...and it needed to be, with the cut falling at a record low four-under par. Starting at the 1st, I made six birdies in the first 11 holes. The only blemish on my scorecard was a bogey on 13, but other than that I was pleased with how I played today. The way I was hitting my irons, it really should have been even better. I had good control over my ball-flight and as a result I had 13 birdie attempts from inside 20 feet. But you can never complain when you make eight birdies and shoot 65. It got me back in the tournament.

Solid Weekend Play

Saturday was a pretty steady round of golf. To be honest, it wasn't exactly what I was hoping for. I needed to get things going if I was going to have a chance on Sunday. Bottom line was I didn’t hit my irons close enough to shoot a really low number. And my putter was a bit cold. Like I said, 69 was solid enough round – but not good enough.

I set myself a goal to go out and be aggressive in the final round – just go as low as possible and see how things end up Sunday night.

The final afternoon was probably about the most wind we had all week. And I hit the ball solid, again especially with my irons – as good as I did on Friday I’d say, when I shot 65. I missed only one green in regulation all day, which was my best effort of the week. Having got to the turn in three under par, courtesy of a birdie on the 6th and an eagle on the 8th, I was looking to get down into the mid-60s. But I couldn’t buy a putt on the back nine – in fact, I added it up at the end and I had 32 putts in total in that final round.

Obviously a win wasn’t on the cards, but I could have finished top-3 here, which would have been a good result after my first round. But like I said, I can’t be too disappointed. All in all my game is heading in the right direction.

Coming up this week...

On Sunday night I flew straight from Miami to the Bahamas for a quick site visit to one of the golf courses we’re designing there; that’ll take up most of my day on Monday.

Then from there I’m going to fly to Augusta National for a couple of days and play some practice rounds, check-out for myself the work they’ve done to the course since we were last there 11 months ago. I’ve already read some of the press coverage and chatted with a few guys who’ve been there recently, so I kind of know what to expect. But there’s no substitute for seeing it yourself.

There have been changes made to six holes in all – the 1st, 4th, 7th, 11th, 15th and 17th. The end result is the course has stretched from 7,290 yards in 2005 to 7,445 this year. It should be interesting to take a look. I’ll tell you more about that in the build-up to Masters’ week.

When I get back from Augusta National I’ll spend some time in Orlando, working on my game in preparation for the Bay Hill Invitational starting next week. This is the only tournament in the US where I get to stay at my own house; it’s actually only a 30-minute drive from my front door to the golf course. So that’s a bonus.

The week after that we’re at THE PLAYERS Championship just up the coast here in Florida, and then it’s another week off before the Masters, so for me this is a nice easy four or five weeks on the travelling front. But like I said at the start of the year, this was all part of a conscious effort on my part when I put my schedule together, to make sure I’m fresh mentally and physically every time I tee it up. I think it will pay off in the long run.

Anyway, this week I’m just looking forward to putting in some serious hours on the practice ground – basically trying to build on some of the good feelings I had in my swing during Doral week, but also see if I can get something going on the greens and maybe find what I had in the last round at Riviera when I putted great. At Doral I had 115 putts in 72 holes. Considering those stats, tied-7th wasn’t such a bad effort.

Winning tournaments is what drives me, though, not top-10 finishes. I need to putt better over all four rounds.

Okay, that’s it for this report. I’ll write again next Monday.

Bye for now!

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