After a good winter break to recharge the batteries at Lake Nona in Florida, I began 2008 with the Middle Eastern swing of Abu Dhabi, Qatar and the Dubai Desert Classic, followed by the European Tours first-ever tournament in India. I kicked off with a brief warm-up trip to Dubai in late January, the week before the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. I brought my swing coach Clive Tucker, personal trainer Paul Hoskings and my caddie Ken Comboy out with me so that I could continue to fine-tune my game and physical conditioning for the new season.
I started with a rusty week in Abu Dhabi, missing the cut by one shot. I didnt hit the ball that well in Qatar the week after, but I managed to finish things out well over the weekend, leaving my best until last with a final round of 69 to finish up on 8 under par for the tournament and tied for 20th.
It wasnt exactly the result I wanted from the week, but its definitely more rewarding and reassuring not to play to your full potential and be in contention than it is to play great and have an average week. Achieving consistency in the professional game is all about how good your bad weeks are, and then when you have a good week, making sure its a really good week!
The Dubai Desert Classic has taken on an even greater significance this year with the announcement of the $10m Race to Dubai which begins in 2009 and I was really up for the tournament. The field featured some of the top names in world golf and obviously its always great to get
to compete with Tiger. It was also the
first tournament that I had my new management team at (I moved to Horizon Sports Management at the end of the 2007 season) thus I was really charged up and wanted to do well.
I finished the first round tied for second after carding a 5-under 67. Tiger was in his usual position at the top of the leaderboard after a 65. I had matched him for birdies, but dropped shots at the 2nd and 6th undid some of my good work.
The second round was played in unbelievable conditions, as the winds picked up dramatically and covered the course in sand so that it was kind of like playing golf in a sandblaster, but overall I was very pleased with my short game and my tally of just 26 putts.
Going into the last day I was exactly where I wanted to be: at the sharp end of a big event, where the competitive juices really get flowing. However, my final-round of 70 wasnt quite enough to lift me into contention. I was playing well, but could see from the on-course leaderboards that I would really have to go for it at the end.
Thats why I gave it such a rip off the 17th tee to try to cut the corner to make the green. I have never actually gone for the green at 17 before, but Tiger forced everyones hand. But I hit a bad tee shot and ultimately it forced me to take a penalty drop. But thats the way I play and
I stand by being aggressive when required you always want to win and not finish second or third. In the end, I was four shots adrift of Tiger for the tournament in fifth place on 10 under.
Dubai was a really positive week in general. I never really got in with a chance to win the tournament, I was always two or three shots back chasing. I was a little disappointed at the end but it was a great weeks work. I have got to be happy. I gave some of the best players in the world a run for their money and there are only positives in that. I also made some progress on the Ryder Cup European Points list, so thats another reason to be happy with my weeks work.
And so on to Delhi for the inaugural Indian Masters. Ive played here before and its certainly a unique city. The course is tricky, tight, tree-lined and you can really get yourself into some nasty spots around the greens. I took a lot of confidence over here after my result in Dubai and I pretty much found myself around the top of the leaderboard all week. I played my final two rounds with my Irish compatriot Damien McGrane which was good fun! Damien played really well and watching him was a lesson in the importance of keeping things simple. He hits fairways and greens and has a razor-sharp short game why do the rest of us complicate things so much! We were both in contention on the final day, but I was struggling with my swing a little bit over the weekend and a nightmare triple-bogey early in the back nine on Sunday crushed my chances of a win. While I was confident in my game all week, I just wasnt swinging the club well on Sunday and a couple of bad shots cost me. I was really happy for Damien gaining his highest finish in a European Tour event, finishing outright second.
While I was disappointed with the way I played on Sunday in India, I am still playing really well in general and extremely happy with where I am at. I had a great chat with my manager afterwards, and we agreed that I am in a great place right now and, either way, everything I am doing at the moment has me going in the right direction.
It was straight back to beautiful Portrush for a two-week break when the tournament was over (with a few airports and transfers in between!) and the welcome chance to take a few days off before getting down to some practice at home before I fly back out to India for the Johnnie Walker Classic.