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On the Road with Ernie: Masters Review

Read all about Ernie's up-and-down week at the Masters, his high hopes for a strong showing in Hilton Head this week and more, in this edition of On the Road with Ernie...

jb

When I came into last week’s Masters I’d have been the first to say I wasn’t playing exactly the way I’d want to, but I was playing good enough to do well here. I love this golf course and I really felt like I was close to maybe doing something special. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I played a lot of solid golf and did a lot of things right in my game, but I made some mistakes and I wasn’t able to produce the little bit of magic that you need in the majors. I take my hat off to Phil, though. He was the best player this week and he deserved to win.

All through the week there was obviously a lot of talk about the changes they’d made to the golf course for this year’s tournament. My personal opinion is that it was a fair test. Very tough, yes, but definitely fair. In some ways it’s become a little bit more like a US Open type challenge, mentally at least. You often need to play the percentages. That’s not negative, it’s just realistic. You have to play away from some of the pins and try to give yourself the easiest first putt to make par. If you’re going to attack, you have to choose your moments carefully and you’d better execute the shot properly or you’re in trouble. They may have lengthened this golf course but one thing doesn’t ever change; nowhere else is there such a fine line between having a birdie putt or a bogey…maybe worse. The challenge basically never lets up.

Still, the weather could not have been more perfect for the first round. There was almost no breeze and the golf course was playing fast and dry, so the added length wasn’t much of an issue, really. The golf course was giving nothing away, though. The greens were firm and very quick and the pins were tucked in the corners; it was more like a Sunday set-up than a Thursday.

Early Rounds

It wasn’t surprising that scoring was a little higher than we usually see on day one of the Masters. I was happy with my 71. Anything under par today was a good score. I hit it good off the tee, especially. And from there my strategy was to play quite safe with my iron shots – basically, try to eliminate the big number and make par my friend; then try to pick up shots on the birdie holes like the par-5s. This was a steady start and I was satisfied with that.

Friday was a different kind of day. It was dry again, but there was more wind. I made a good start, with a birdie on the 2nd to get myself into red figures for the day. Then birdies on 7 and 8 helped get me to the turn in three-under par. I really had it going there for a while. But Amen Corner kind of bit me in the behind. I played the 10th badly and made double-bogey there and then bogeyed the 12th. I bounced back pretty well, though, with a birdie on the 13th and finished the day at two-under par. All in all, I wasn’t unhappy with my position. I was right there and with the golf course getting tougher all the time, I figured if I could keep playing solid golf and maybe shoot one round in the 60s at the weekend, I’d be in there with a great chance.

Here Comes the Rain

I was paired with Tim Clark for the third round and for a while it looked like we wouldn’t even get started on Saturday. We had heavy rain for most of the day, which isn’t unusual at Augusta. In the last 10 years I’d say we’ve had maybe only a couple of tournaments that weren’t interrupted at some stage for rain. When we did eventually tee off, it was so late in the day that we only managed to fit in six holes before it got dark. Tim was knocking the stick out on almost every hole, so I know he didn’t want to stop! Along with most of the field we’d all have to come back on Sunday morning to finish our third rounds. The forecast was sunny and dry, but it was obvious it was going to be a long day for everyone. We’d see who could tough it out the best.

Finally, the Final Round

When we started at 7:45am on Sunday it was pretty cold out there…and so was my game. To be honest with you, I struggled to get into my stride. I had a bad run of holes where I couldn’t seem to hit it in the right spots. Like I said before, it’s a fine line here. Anyway, I made four bogeys in the space of five holes. I repaired some of the damage with birdies on the two par-5s coming home, but that was a costly stretch. Shooting 74 left me at level par and I had a lot to do in the final round. But this being Augusta; anything could happen. I wasn’t out of it, not by any stretch.

I knew I needed to make a quick start to my final round – basically, get under par early and right in touch with the leaders at 4 or five under. But when you start trying to chase a score on this golf course, it can really show you its teeth. Unfortunately, I had a couple of bad breaks on the second hole and took double-bogey there. And you know, having started my round off on the wrong foot I just couldn’t seem to get it going after that. I tried my hardest, but it felt like a long day out there.

It’s obviously disappointing when a tournament gets away from you like that, but as I said at the start of this report, I did a lot of things right this week. What cost me was when I did make a mistake, I didn’t recover well. But Augusta can do that to you! Also, to win here your putting has to be nothing less than spectacular; and that wasn’t the case with me this week. It was fine in the first couple of rounds, but my putter went cold over the weekend – I had 32 putts in the third round and 33 putts in the final round. If you putt like that you’re going to struggle to make it up near the top of the leaderboard. And that’s how it turned out.

It is what it is, though. I just need to keep working hard on my game and my fitness and the game will come to me. Sometimes it takes longer than you’d like. Maybe this is the week when things come together for me.

Coming up this week…

This week I’m playing in the Verizon Heritage (which used to be called the MCI Heritage) at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. This is my final tournament before I have some time off at Wentworth, so it would be great if I could make something special happen and get back into my winning ways. I don’t feel like I’m far away now. I just need to play solid golf and put myself in position to have a shot at winning come Sunday afternoon. That’s where we all want to be.

The Harbour Town Golf Links, designed by Pete Dye, is one of the players’ favourites out here on the PGA Tour and it’s a golf course where I’ve played pretty well over the years, too. I’d call it a real shot-maker’s golf course. I wasn’t here last year, but in the two previous occasions I shot eight-under par in 2004 and ten-under par in 2003 to finish tied-3rd and 10th. In fact, when I look back over my record I’ve hardly ever been outside the top-10. Maybe that first win is overdue!

There’s no reason why I can’t make this a good week. If I can keep doing the things that have been good in my game this past few weeks, and at the same time eliminate some of the mistakes that have been costing me, I’ve got a great chance. Like I said, it would be nice to go on my break with that first PGA Tour win of 2006 in the bag.

Whatever happens, I’ll write again next week and tell you all about it.

Bye for now, then.

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