A three-time European Tour winner. Now that sounds pretty good. After a solid start to the season, where I gave myself chances on the Sunday at five out of my first seven events, it was absolutely great to win the Ballantines Championship. It seems a long time since I won in Italy in 2004, not to mention my first title in Sweden in 02, so it was about time!
The final-round was fantastic Jeev (Milkha Singh) was asking all the questions and I knew after four holes that I had to shoot around six under par. So to do that and get in the play-off was great and then came the icing on the cake. I had a do-or-die shot at the third play-off hole. I knew Jeev had hit it close and I just went for it. To hit to two feet was a major relief. Its definitely up there with my top five best ever shots hit under the gun.
The ultimate goal this year is to make the Ryder Cup team so its a real bonus to chalk up a win so early in the season. I realise theres a lot of golf to be played and the big money events on tour dont get going till May or so, but its great to have a head start. It also helps my ranking and gets me into a few extra events. I dont want to be missing out on the WGCs or the Majors, so its really important to win titles.
All of this followed a successful trip to the Middle East which kick-started my season with tied 20th in Qatar, fifth in Dubai and tied 12th in India. After this I also slipped in a bit of a much-needed break, returning to Portrush, Northern Ireland, for two weeks. The sub-zero temperatures and snow that I was greeted with were in stark contrast to the sweltering heat of Dubai and India! But it was great to see friends and family and the rest definitely helped me out in Korea.
It wasnt all rest though, as I went over to the Callaway testing centre in the UK. It is truly amazing what these guys can do with the technology and I began to wonder how much of my score is actually attributable to me! Im so happy with what they are doing.
I am also chuffed with the new Callaway TOUR ix ball that I am using. It sounds like marketing speak but I genuinely believe that it is the best ball I have used, particularly in the wind. I am only really using it consistently since the beginning of the season and I can honestly say that it has made a massive difference in the way that I am trying to shape particular shots.
While in Dublin, I also did an after-dinner speaking appearance at Milltown GC, which I really enjoyed. Shane ODonoghue one of Irelands main TV golf commentators was hosting the evening and he made things so easy for me. He is extremely knowledgeable and knows all the right questions to ask (and not to ask!). Before the dinner, I also did a clinic with some of the juniors at Milltown, which brought me back to when I was a wee lad, trying to learn the nuances of this crazy game of ours. It was inspiring to see the enthusiasm that these kids have. It is all about having fun for them and that is the way it should be. It made me think that we could learn a thing or two from that.
There was, of course, some leisure time thrown into my break from the tour. This included a trip to Old Trafford where I saw my team Manchester United hammer Arsenal in the FA Cup 4-0. Its just a pity they could not repeat the same against Portsmouth in the quarter-finals!
After all that, it was time to get back on the road, which meant a return to India for the Johnnie Walker Classic. From having never played an event in India, I was back again for my second in a month.
This Asian swing leg of the season is always difficult, as you spend a few weeks on the trot in countries which are pretty alien to the culture we are used to.
This is the point of the season where you need to make sure the DVD and PlayStation chargers are in the bag. I generally try to take it easy in the evenings in places like this. If I were to head out it would be to go for food with my manager, caddie and friends like Simon Dyson and Rory McIlroy. However, some evenings I just get room service and watch a DVD or listen to music and just chill out. It sounds boring, but you get used to it. The days can be really long, between working on parts of your game, playing practice rounds and going to the gym (which I am gradually getting into!).
Unfortunately I didnt have a great return to India where my swing was a little off and I missed my second cut of the season. I had been doing some good work on the range during my time off, but for some reason I struggled a bit in tournament conditions. A long weekend off on the range helped me get back on track though.
The next stop was Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysian Open. After the disappointment of New Delhi I was eager to put things right and get back into contention. Things started well with two bogey-free rounds and I certainly played well. But unfortunately some bogeys slipped in at the weekend and I fell down the leaderboard to finish tied for 17th. Not a bad weeks work, but it could have been better.
Things did of course get a lot better in Korea! And I have to say I now feel ready to try and claim some more titles. Im playing well enough, Ive got the confidence and the momentum, so heres hoping.