Having played three tournaments in consecutive weeks, which included teeing it up in Qatar, South Africa and India, it is pleasing to know that all of the conditioning work I have been doing with Rob Goldup and the additional practice sessions I’ve done on the driving range and in the gym at The Grove over the last few months is really starting to pay off and hopefully the injuries that have plagued me are now in the rear-view mirror. This upturn in form and fitness enables me to look forward to 2018 with renewed confidence and, for me, like almost every golfer, this means I can turn my attention to the first Major Championship of the year, and with only a few weeks to go, Georgia is now, quite naturally, on my mind.
I have been lucky enough to play at Augusta National Golf Club three times so far in my career and my overriding memory of my Masters experience happened long before I ever set foot on the golf course. Having had a good season in 2004, I’d managed to play my way into the world’s top 50 by the end of the year, so I knew I had made the cut and would be able to play in the 2005 Masters. However, even though it wasn’t a surprise, nothing can prepare you for the moment that the formal invitation arrives through the letterbox. It feels like Christmas and from the moment I opened the envelope I couldn’t wait to get out to Georgia and compete for the green jacket. I was obviously playing well at the time, but you can never be sure that you will receive the invitation again so I was very conscious of the fact that I needed to make the most of the experience, so plans were immediately put in place for a number of family and friends to travel out with me so we could enjoy the adventure together.
Arriving at Augusta National Golf Club is another moment that I will never forget. Having watched the tournament on TV for years you feel a certain familiarity with the venue, but nothing can prepare you for that first time you arrive as a guest of the club and I spent the first day just walking around to not only get my bearings, but to fully immerse myself in the whole experience. The other thing that I noticed quite early on in 2005, and it was the same in 2006 and 2007, is that all of the players are just like you and everyone is in a really good mood and slightly awe-struck of the splendour of it all, which certainly helps put you at ease. I made the cut in 2005 and eventually finished tied 11th – my best finish at Augusta – 10 shots behind Tiger Woods, who managed to hold off the challenge from Chris DiMarco, in part thanks to that miraculous chip-in on the 16th hole.
It is great to have Tiger back playing again and his name will now rightly join the thousands of conversations people will have around who will claim this year’s title. For me, there are so many players coming into the tournament in such good form that it is as open as it has been for many years, so I am looking forward to tuning into the TV and watching all of the action unfold.
Shots to help master Augusta
It is obviously important to drive the ball well and being able to hit the ball over 350 yards is a clear advantage, but it is actually quite generous from the tee, so the key to a having a good week at Augusta is how well you manage your game around the greens. You will often find yourself slightly out of position having to play off a tight lie onto greens that are as quick as any we play on Tour and with the severe slopes you often can’t just hit the ball towards the hole, you have to be creative with your shot choices, which is something that I always really enjoyed.
The big names such as Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and of course Jordan Spieth can never be written off, but of the American challengers I’m going to pick Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson. Both come into the week having won recently and with five green jackets between them, the layout of the course obviously suits their games and I expect both to be in contention on Sunday afternoon.
Of the European contenders, I think Tommy Fleetwood has a great chance. His game has matured so much over the last couple of years and he is now consistently playing well week in and week out and he has all of the attributes to do well at Augusta so I would expect him to continue the upward trajectory his career is on at the moment. My second tip would be Justin Rose. Justin came so close last year and he comes into the tournament in good form having finished the 2017 season off so strongly so it wouldn’t surprise me if he claimed his first green jacket on April 8.