On the Road with Ernie: THE PLAYERSErnie recaps a strange week at THE PLAYERS Championship and looks ahead to The Masters, in this edition of On the Road with Ernie...
This year’s Players Championship was the strangest week. I played some really good golf in stretches and was well under par in every round. I was patient when I needed to be, making par my friend; and I picked my moments to be aggressive and go for birdies. I was basically playing smart golf. It was exactly the kind of strategy you need to do well on this tough TPC layout. But then in each and every round I finished poorly; just two or three mistakes which turned good rounds of golf into ordinary ones. On most other golf courses you can make a mistake and maybe get away with it, but not here. You miss a shot; you pay the price. Trust me, one yard means so much more on this golf course than almost any other we play all year.
Conditions were perfect for scoring on Thursday. It was raining, but the air was still and all the moisture in the air took a bit of the fire out of the greens. I made a really solid start, hitting a lot of good golf shots and that got me to three-under par after 13 holes. With a reachable par-5 to come I was looking to finish strongly and maybe shoot 67 or 68. But I took bogey-five on the 14th and followed that up with a double-bogey on the 15th. Then I missed out on my birdie on the par-5 16th. Honestly, a 72 was the worst score I could have had, playing the way I did. That three-hole stretch in the middle of my back nine just ruined my round. I was mad at myself for that.
I had an early start time for the second round, starting on the 10th tee, and despite the cold and blustery conditions I was soon under par with birdies on the 12th and 13th holes. Again, I was playing well and heading for a good score, but like the previous day it was ruined by two stupid holes. I made bogey on the 8th, my penultimate hole, and then a double-bogey on the par-5 9th. So that was three shots gone in the final two holes. That really hurt. But like I said before, it’s the kind of thing that can happen on this golf course. You make a mistake and it is very unforgiving. I needed to work hard to eliminate those errors over the weekend.
The pattern continued. Saturday was a brutal day. It was windy; the greens were firm and fast. To be honest, anything in the 60s would have been a seriously good round of golf – I mean, the average for the field was just over 75. Three birdies in my back nine put me in with a shout of breaking 70, but I bogeyed the last two holes for a 72. What can I say? It was a disappointing way to finish.
Sunday I really got things going, though. I played great for 11 holes and was five under par for my round, seven under par for the tournament, and tied for second place at that time. And I had two birdie opportunities from inside 10 feet on both the 12th and 13th – you know, maybe if I’d made one of those it might have been a different story. I felt if I could somehow get to nine or even 10 under par at the finish, it might be a winning score. But I missed those putts, then I found some trouble over the next couple of holes and my round kind of went into reverse.
At the end of the day it was frustrating, because I’d played well enough to put myself in with an outside chance. But on reflection I don’t think anyone was going to catch Stephen Ames on Sunday. It was close for a while, but then he just ran away with it. This was his tournament. It was a great performance and well done to him.
For me, I can take a lot of positives from this. I swung the club better this week and strung together a lot of good golf shots. Okay, I’m not finishing off a good round of golf like I usually do, but that’s just something I have to work my way through. Every now and then this game throws you a curve-ball and I guess that’s what I’m having to deal with right now. You just have to stick it out. I’m working hard. I know my game is slowly coming together. And with that comes some confidence. Soon I’ll be back to where I need to be, winning golf tournaments.
Coming up this week…
I’m writing this report on Monday morning, just before I head off to play in the Tavistock Cup, a two-day tournament at Isleworth Country Club in Windermere, Florida. I’m the playing captain of the Lake Nona team against Mark O’Meara’s Isleworth team. There’s a rivalry between the two teams. But above all, this is a game played amongst friends. And that’s reflected in the spirit of these matches. We shared the trophy last year, so let’s see if we can come up with a proper result this time around. The right result – Lake Nona winning, obviously!
My team line-up is: Ben Curtis, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Maarten Lafeber, Nick Faldo, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia and Trevor Immelman. Mark’s team consists of: Arjun Atwal, Charles Howell, Craig Parry, John Cook, Lee Janzen, Robert Allenby, Robert Damron, Stuart Appleby and Tiger Woods. As I said, the matches are played over two days and it is always a lot of fun. Also, I understand that as a result of this match something like half-a-million dollars will be donated to charities in this area, which is great to hear
After the Tavistock Cup I’ll be spending a few days away with the family, although this is no holiday. Where I’m going the practice facilities are as good as any tour venue and I can pretty much guarantee some peace and privacy. I think it’s the ideal place for getting my golf game, and my head, in the best possible shape for the first major championship of the year.
I’ll tell you more about that next Monday, in my special Masters Preview report.
Until then, bye for now.
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