I’ve been watching the Irish Open since its great days at Portmarnock to playing in it for the past ten years or so and always get an extra kick out of it. I had my first look at Carton House last week and thought it was an absolute picture, and with a really lovely clubhouse it should make for a very nice tournament. I’m also pleased to see a good field, seven current Ryder Cuppers, and even if it’s a strange time of year for an Irish Open, I think the crowds will turn up and enjoy themselves enormously.
I’m still not in top form but, as always, I will try to perform to my very best. I can make things happen and my aim is to be in the hunt entering the fine nine holes on Sunday and then we’ll see how it unfolds. Although it measures 7,300 yards, I didn’t regard Monty’s course as long.
I’m used to long courses in the States but not the tight fairways we’ll be meeting this week. It always surprises people when I tell them the fairways in Europe are narrower than anything they will encounter on the US Tour. They are much wider over there, and they have lighter rough, too.
I’m told that the Pinehurst fairways for the US Open will be four yards narrower than they were the last time in 1999 but I still believe they won’t be too severe. At Carton, the greens are very firm but I like their style, the fairways are tight and the bunkers are a feature and that’s fine by me.
All the time, my dad is battling his illness with all his usual courage and there’s even a possibility that he will be able to spend a few hours at Carton. I know he would like that very much. If not, he’ll enjoy watching on television; he doesn’t miss much of any tournament I play either in the States or over here. Naturally, it’s been difficult for me to keep my focus in the circumstances although I have to admit that I am able to concentrate when I’m on the golf course. I’m not one to stand around thinking the worst or feeling sorry for myself. I won’t be saying I’m going to win this week for dad or any of that kind of stuff. That said, I am stressed and that’s something only I can deal with. It was great to get together with three of my brothers, Colm, Tadgh and Fergal, for a game at Carton on Thursday last. It was a nice day with plenty of sunshine and a stiffish breeze, in other words ideal for golf. I took out a little wager with Tadgh, who’s a good 13 handicapper. The deal was I would play from the very back tees and he would play off the medal tees. I was giving him 30 shots but it had to be stroke play. The match was over after three holes. He hit three tee shots, couldn’t find any of them so that was very much that!
The feeling I had was that the pros will be fully extended by Monty’s course. It’s a very interesting creation. Even if we have four good days, I don’t believe the winning score will be a lot under par with twelve the highest number I can envisage. If it cuts up rough, somebody will still get under par and the winner would probably shoot five or six under. Much, too, will depend on how the Tour sets it up. If the weather is bad, then you’d expect fairly generous pin positions and maybe moving one or two tees forward at holes playing directly into the wind.
The guys driving the ball well throughout the week will do best at Carton. It’s not just how straight you hit it, it’s also about how far you hit it. If you clear one bunker 270/280 yards out you’re in danger of crossing the fairway and landing in the next one because there are so many doglegs. It may be actually easier playing some holes into the wind.
Believe me, it’s all about the tee shot this week. I kept a score on Thursday and went round in 75 and that was alright.
I had a bad final day in the Wachovia Championship in my last tournament and of course that was disappointing. The funny thing, though, is that I felt I played better in that event than I had done the previous week in New Orleans when I finished 9th so I’m not unduly worried about my current form. Bob Torrance, my coach, came over on Friday and I’ve worked with him over the past few days and that gives me an added feeling of confidence.
I have played seven or eight events this year and in spite of my victory in the Honda, I’m not getting into the thick of things. I’m not consistent and not where I want to be. I would like to be more competitive and as Wentworth and the BMW PGA Championship next week is not a favourite of mine at that time of year, I am already turning an eye on Pinehurst next month.
I played a practice round there a couple of weeks ago and thought the course was fantastic.
However, for now the emphasis is on the Nissan Irish Open, a tournament I have always coveted. I think that applies to the other Irish guys as well, we all want to win our national championship. We keep getting reminded of the 23-year gap since John O’Leary did it in 1982 with people always demanding that we put the record right. I have no ready explanation for the drought of Irish victories. You know, I have won 13 times and that leaves me with an average of about one and a half in every year. So the averages don’t suggest that I should win any one particular event. True the Irish Open is more special than most. I won’t say it imposes more pressure than any others because it doesn’t. After this length of time on tour I have learned to cope with that side of it, but there is extra stress and more distractions.