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On the Road with Ernie: Nissan Open

Ernie returned to the PGA TOUR last week for the first time since the US Open last June and finished T-23 at the Nissan Open. Find out what he took out of the tournament that will help him at this week's Accenture Match Play, and about his one day trip to Hawaii, in this edition of On the Road with Ernie...

It was obviously great to be back in action again on the PGA Tour. This was my first event since the US Open last June; and that’s a long time to be away. But this was a good place to start back. As I was saying in last week’s report, I love the Riviera Country Club. It’s a great, classic golf course and I’ve won here before. So in some ways, even allowing for the long break, I had pretty high expectations of myself. Now, having had a night to reflect on things, I’d say it was a so-so performance. I took a lot of encouragement and confidence from my 67 on Sunday, the second best round of the day, but up to that point my game was just mediocre, really – I’d have maybe given it a B-minus, or something like that. Overall I guess it wasn’t too bad, though, considering all the circumstances. I feel like I’ve got a few positive things to take with me into this week’s Accenture at La Costa.

Early Rounds

This certainly was a bit of an up-and-down start to my 2006 PGA Tour campaign, though. Five birdies and four bogeys in an opening round of 70, one under par. I wasn’t at my best, to be honest, but I could so easily have squeezed a 67 or a 68 out of the day, which would have been a really good result. I felt like I missed a few chances…then I bogeyed my last two holes of the day, the 8th and 9th. But still, considering the way I played, it wasn’t a bad result.

On Friday I got off to a shocking start; bogey on the 2nd, double bogey on the 3rd, and four over for the front nine. At that stage I was in danger of missing my first cut on the PGA Tour in 28 consecutive events. I was pleased with how I came back, though. I played the last nine holes in three-under par, to get in at level par for the halfway mark, just a shot inside the cut. Hopefully I could build on that at the weekend.

The Weekend

And Saturday’s round basically carried on where I left off the previous day, a couple of birdies on 10 and 11, the first two holes of my round. Hey, I figured if I could push on from there I might even get myself in with a sniff of a chance on Sunday. I mean, you just never know how things might work out. Unfortunately, my round kind of stalled and I lost momentum. I could do no better than a 71, level par.

On Sunday then, I’d be playing for position, not possible victory.

However, one thing I always pride myself on is giving it 100 per cent, even when I’m out of contention. Sunday’s round was no different. I shot a bogey-free 67 to lift myself into the top-25 for the week. I didn’t drive the ball great, but I felt comfortable on the greens and made some putts. As I said in my introduction, that’ll give me some confidence going into this week’s Matchplay. Trust me, those 18-hole games can be over in a hurry so you have to make some putts to have a good week.

Coming up this week…

I left California pretty much straight after I’d finished my final round on Sunday, taking a four-hour flight west across the Pacific to Hawaii, where I’m making a site visit today to a new golf course we’re designing. The course will be part of the new Hoakalei Country Club that is being built in Ewa Beach, about 20 minutes from Honolulu. It’s a very exciting project; obviously in a beautiful part of the world. I’ll hopefully be able to tell you more about this in the coming weeks and months.

I’ll actually be in Hawaii for only one day and then I’m heading back to California, to San Diego to be precise, for this week’s Accenture World Matchplay – the first WGC event on the 2006 schedule. It’s the first time I’ve played in this event since 2003. I imagine you’ll all be familiar with the format; 18-hole matchplay for the first four days and, if you make it to the final, a 36-hole showdown on Sunday.

It all kicks off on Wednesday and I’ll be making sure I get in a couple of practice rounds before then. If I’m being honest, this is one event on the PGA Tour where my record really isn’t good. It’s a tough thing to explain; I mean, obviously I’ve had a great time at Wentworth in the World Matchplay, winning that event six times over the years. And I do like the matchplay format – you know, you can be aggressive and go for your shots a bit.

But the 36-hole matches that we play at Wentworth are a completely different ball game to what we have here this week at La Costa. This is more like a sprint compared to an 800-meter race. If you make a bad start you haven’t got much time to get back into the game. Like I said before, things can be over in a hurry if you’re not careful.

Hopefully, though, I can put things right this time around. The good news is, I’ve just sneaked ahead of Phil in the World Rankings, up to number 4, so I get one of the seeded spots in the four different ‘brackets’, along with Tiger, Vijay and Retief. That means I don’t get to play any of those guys until at least the semi-finals, although let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. I’ve got to make it that far yet – and I haven’t managed that since 2001 in Australia, where I lost in the semis.

I feel pretty confident coming into this week, though. I’ve got that first PGA Tour event under my belt for this season and I definitely found something on the greens at Riviera. On Sunday that’s probably the best I’ve putted all season. I need to be able to find that little secret again on the greens here at La Costa and if I do that, there’s no reason why I can’t have a good run this week.

Anyway, as I sit and write this report the draw for the first round hasn’t been announced yet, so there’s not much more I can tell you right now.

I’ll write again next Monday, though, where I’ll be getting ready to compete in the Ford Championship at Doral – one of my favourites. Can’t wait for that.

Bye for now.

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