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On the Road with Ernie: Singapore Open

Read about Ernie's battle with fellow Titleist ambassador Adam Scott at this past weekend's Singapore Open. Scott defeated Els on the third playoff hole to defend his title.

Kirk Hanefeld
Ernie set the course record with a 65 in the second round.

Well, that’s two visits to Singapore in the last three years and both times I’ve finished second. This time it came down to a three-hole playoff with Adam Scott, after the tournament had been abandoned due to bad weather. I felt like I had my chances. And man, it was disappointing to miss out again. But well done to Adam; he played some great golf. And well done to Barclays and everyone else involved in organising this tournament - they really looked after us well and put on a great show. I can’t wait to come back again next year, when maybe it’ll be third time lucky for me!

Great Start

I’d arrived in Singapore on Sunday morning, nice and early, so by Thursday morning I felt like I was ready to go. Still, I made kind of a slow start to my first round. I basically couldn’t buy a putt all day. But overall I felt like I’d played pretty well, especially on the back nine, and it could easily have been a couple of shots better than a 71. But the leader was only on four-under par, so I wasn’t far back.

Friday was a good day. And you know, I felt like my game was really back on song. I hit the ball even better than I had in the first round, and this time I got my putter going to shoot a new course record, a six-under par 65. It was a fun day’s golf. I made a couple of putts early on in my round and that kind of broke the ice. In the end it was only 27 putts for the day; and that’s much more like it. That’s the way I was putting all the time when I was winning four or five tournaments a year.

It meant I was taking a two-shot lead going into the weekend; and that felt good. The rough was so thick here that I set myself a target of hitting a lot of fairways and greens and hopefully I could keep making some putts. I was rolling the ball nicely on Friday, so I just wanted to try to keep that feeling going through the weekend.

Saturday was a rough day, though. And I mean, really rough. The dinner I had Friday night really didn’t agree with me, to say the least. It was a bad case of food poisoning and I was sick all night. To be honest, for a while I didn’t think I was going to be able to even start my third round.

I still felt terrible when I stepped on to the 1st tee and continued to feel pretty weak on the front nine. Fortunately for me, play was interrupted due to lightning and we had to leave the golf course for a couple of hours. I don’t usually like breaks in play, but this one really saved me. The doctor gave me some medication and after that I felt a little bit better. Actually, compared to how I was feeling 12 hours earlier, I felt a lot better.

Anyway, when play was resumed I managed to get my round back on track with a couple of birdies on the 15th and 17th, to shoot a two-under par 69. In the circumstances, that was probably as good a round as my 65 the previous day. It was a real battle, feeling as bad as I did. But it was worth the fight. I had a great chance to win my first tournament since the dunhill championship last December.

I guess it was shaping-up to be a bit of a two-horse race, with Scotty and me tied for the lead at eight-under par. And I knew what I had to do; try to get my round going early – basically, make some birdies and apply some pressure. It was looking good for a while. You know, I felt like I’d got something going early in my round and I had some momentum going on my side. But then the weather closed in on us again, for the second time, and play was suspended after just eight holes, with the pair of us still tied for the lead at 10-under par.

This time the weather looked really bad, though. And it was getting late. It was a tough situation for the organisers. I mean, who knows what could have happened on Monday with the weather. If we’d had another day like Sunday…well, what would we have done then? The organisers decided to abandon play for the day and effectively reduce the tournament to 54 holes, which meant sending Scotty and me into a playoff over three holes. Obviously no one wants a tournament to end like that, but I think on balance it was the only solution.

The Playoff

In the playoff, I had my chances. I hit a good shot in to the 16th to about 10 feet, but hit a poor putt. Then on the 17th I hit a decent tee shot, but it finished in an awkward little spot. Anyway, we both made par on those first two playoff holes. So now, it was basically sudden death down the par-5 18th.

After Adam and I made par on the first two playoff holes, he converted a five-foot birdie putt for the win

Unfortunately, I hit a poor tee shot into the rough and had a terrible lie. Realistically, all I could do was just get it back into play. My third shot into the green looked good in the air, but it came up a club short. Then Scotty hit it into five feet for a pretty much guaranteed birdie and when I missed my 30-footer, I knew it was over. There was no way he was going to miss from there.

I was bitterly disappointed, of course. But overall I have to say I had a great week and I can’t wait to come back next year, to have another crack at winning the Barclays Singapore Open. Like I said, maybe it’ll be third time lucky! It’s a good tournament, with great sponsors. The people are very enthusiastic in the galleries and it’s nice to have such a lot of support. I hope they keep the golf course just like it was this week, nice and tough. With the new slot in the schedule and with quality players coming through, I think this tournament will go from strength to strength.

Anyway, let’s move on to this week’s events.

Coming up this week…

I flew from Singapore late on Sunday night, straight to London and back to the house at Wentworth for Monday morning. It’s obviously a really big week at Wentworth, with the HSBC World Matchplay starting on Thursday. As everyone surely knows, this is one of my favourite tournaments of the year. It didn’t feel good having to sit on the sidelines last year because of injury, which makes me keener than ever to get back down to some serious matchplay action! I’m going for my seventh victory in this event, but it’s going to be tough. We’ve got a strong field, which this year includes Tiger. I think it’s going to be a great week of golf.

There are really no easy matches in this tournament and my first round match is an example of that. I’m up against Angel Cabrera, a big hitter who obviously likes this golf course having won the PGA Championship here in 2005. But these matches are over 36 holes and for that reason I always like my chances; far more so than in the WGC Accenture Matchplay in February where it’s just 18 holes – which always feels like a bit of a sprint, to be honest with you.

And this is my home golf course, as well, which is always good for a bit of a psychological boost every time I tee it up. You might want to check out the Wentworth link on my website, which gives a hole-by-hole guide to the West Course and the changes we made during the winter to this classic Harry Colt design. It was really more of a process of modernisation and refinement than a full-on redesign, but it’s made for a tougher test all-round and the ‘before and after’ diagrams of each hole give you a good idea of how we set about achieving that.

Anyway, I just hope I can play my game and build on some of my good form in recent weeks. Obviously for the first five or six months of this year my knee wasn’t as good as it needed to be. I mean, in the golf swing you put a lot of weight on the left knee coming through the ball and for a while I simply wasn’t trusting it. Basically, I physically wasn’t able to play my best golf.

But that’s history. Physically I’m in good shape and there’s nothing now stopping me from getting that first win of the year. I’m desperate to win again; I must admit I’ve been feeling a bit left out this year! And it’s September now, so I’ve got to get something under my belt soon. This would be a great week to do it.

Whatever happens, though, I’ll be sure to write again next week.

Bye for now, then.

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