Muirfield….Arguably the best course on the Open Championship rota. I had visited the course two weeks earlier, just to familiarise myself with the place, but when I arrived on Monday afternoon, I found a very different golf course. It was still in great condition, but was now very firm and bouncy. On my first visit, I could see Paul using driver 6 or 7 times a round. Now, it was down to two or three. Two weeks of dry weather had changed the course completely. It was going to be a challenging week. We had good preparation, playing with Ernie Els, Branden Grace and Robert Garrigus on Tuesday afternoon, and on Wednesday morning, we played with Sergio Garcia and Marc Warren. On the putting green on Wednesday, Sergio whispered in my ear “ Tell your man he doesn’t have to wear black all the time now that he’s lost weight” I think I managed to keep it to myself for all of 5 minutes. “Whit?? I’ve been wearing white troosers, tartan troosers and patterned shirts tell him!” This kept the banter going for a few holes, with Warren chirping in, as usual. I mentioned that all three players seemed in a very cheerful mood “ Don’t worry, it’s only Wednesday” replied Garcia. Point taken….!!
For Our first round we had Thorbjorn Olesen(again) and Jim Furyk for company. It was a fairly quiet opening day, with not much chat. (Maybe this was down do all 3 players 3 putting the first green). Paul struggled on the first day. Getting unlucky a few times, but overall,it was one of his poorer days at the office. This happens to every player during the season, but is still difficult for them to take. In fairness it had been the toughest part of the day, with several players complaining about the course.Nonetheless he battled away, and when he signed off an 81(+10) we had the mountain of all mountains to climb the next day. In our favour, we were playing early on Friday, when the greens would be a smidgeon softer. The Chipster took full advantage, and was 3 under after 12 holes. We had a chance. At the time we reckoned +6 would be the cut, so one more birdie was needed. A bogey at 16 meant a birdie-birdie finish was required, but two pars ensued. It had been a valiant effort. I took the clubs to Paul’s hotel room, had some lunch, went back to my lodgings to collect my gear, and duly drove home. I even organised a night out with a few mates. How wrong I was. About 6pm, Chippie sent me a text asking if +8 had a chance. I almost replied “Have you been drinking?” I checked the scores on my phone. We were close to making it. The course had been causing havoc with the field. By 8pm, we were in. Ya beauty!!!! Chippie had made it home also. A quick pack of the bag, cancel the night out and it was back in the car and away again.
Just happy to be there, Saturday was another good day, with Paul breaking par again, shooting 70. A few people had gone home on Friday night, thinking they had missed the cut. Some made it as far as London. Thongchai Jaidee had checked in for a flight to Bangkok at Heathrow and had to get his clubs off the plane and fly back to Scotland. A few caddies were also a bit worse for wear on Saturday morning, having drowned their sorrows thinking they had the weekend off. Having been in 150th spot after the first round, Chippie was now lying 34th. Unbelievable!! Sunday was a bit windier, with the course now dried out to the maximum. Paul played nicely again, shooting 72, and moved up the board again. The end result was 26th place. Talk about a rollercoaster week. Paul had improved every day, which was no mean feat. I was home in time to watch the final 9 holes on tv, and was pleased to see Phil Mickelson triumph, with him and his caddie showing some true emotion walking off the 18th green. That’s the Open for you. It can make grown men cry, and for lots of different reasons.
The Scottish Open is of my favourite events of the year for several reasons. Firstly, I can drive to it, secondly, its played on a links course which I love, and ,most importantly, its seen as the Fifth Major by most of the Scottish players and caddies. It also means that Paul has many media and sponsors commitments , so it was going to be a busy week. When Paul arrived on Tuesday, we spent most of the time on the range. We had played the course a few weeks before, so Paul wanted to work on his game before Wednesdays pro-am. The weather forecast was excellent, so the scoring was going to be very low. The pro-am was again a pleasant affair, playing with Douglas Connon of Aberdeen Asset Management and Georgie Bingham, who used to present Sky Sports News. Paul played nicely, and we were well prepared for the opening round. We were paired with Thorbjorn Olesen and Matteo Manassero. European golfs two young hot properties. Chippie was made well aware of the fact that their combined age was less than his .hence his nickname for the first two days..The Daddy
The first round was a fairly low key affair, with Paul going round in 3 under par, a 69, which was a solid start. However 8 under was leading, so we had some ground to make up on Friday, which was certainly much more eventful, and not for the right reasons!! By the time we teed off on Friday afternoon, the wind had picked up, and scoring was a bit trickier than the day before. Paul was level par at the turn, and picked up a birdie at the 11th. With two par fives to go and a driveable par four, we were looking pick up a few shots coming in, but a couple of outside agencies had other ideas.
Fresh from his birdie at the 11th, Paul stood up on the par 5 12th, wound up his backswing in preparation for a rip down the fairway, only to hear an on course commentator from the group behind yell down his microphone as he started his downswing. Unable to abort the shot, but obviously put off, the ball was hooked into the hazard left of the fairway. Chippie was seething. I was too. When we challenged the culprit, he seemed none too bothered, which just added fuel to the fire. A bogey six was the result. Now we were under the cosh, needing a couple birdies to be certain of making the cut. On the 14th, Paul had a 12 foot putt for birdie. As he was about to pull the trigger, an idiot from the hospitality tent shouted Go in the hole Paul backed off, but the damage had been done. The putt slipped by and it seemed the golfing gods were trying their best to stop us playing on the weekend. Nonetheless, Chippie battled on, and made a great up and down on the 18th for birdie, which meant he made the cut by the skin of his teeth Phew!!!
Saturday was a bit of a struggle, and a 73 was the result. We spent some time on the range, and hoped for a good day on Sunday, as the forecast was for a strong wind, which was in our favour. Paul played his best golf of the week on Sunday. The wind was strong, and the course played very tricky. Downwind it was almost impossible to control the ball. We had a five iron go 285 yards up the hill on the 12th( we should have hit six). The par 3 17th was a 3 wood, when it had been a 6 iron the day before. Paul signed off for a 71, which moved us up a good few spots, and was timely encouragement for the following week. A quick bite to eat, and I was in the car heading down the A9 to Glasgow. Due to the late tee times on Sunday to accommodate US television, I was home to watch the final few holes, and it was great to see Phil Mickelson eventually succeed in a tournament he has been a great supporter of. All in all I enjoyed the week, as I always do anywhere in Scotland, but we already had one eye on the following week, the biggest and best week of the year ..The Open!!!!
We had a week to recover from our US Open exploits, then it was off to Maynooth, just outside Dublin, for the Irish open. This is one of the most popular events on the tour calendar. The crowds are always good( the weather isn't ) and the Guinness is always the star attraction!!! For me, it was great to be on a plane for only 45 mins for travel to a tournament . I walked the course early on Tuesday with my friend Dom, who caddies for Paul Casey, the eventual winner, and our playing partner for the first two rounds. We hadn't been here since 2006, so Dom and myself spent a good few hours reacquainting ourselves with the layout. It was in great condition, and we hoped for good weather.
Our Wednesday pro-am was an excellent day. We had former Irish rugby star Mick O'Driscoll, and champion jockey Johnny Murtagh. Talk about opposites! Mick was 6'5" and about 18 stone..... Johnny was 5'5" and 9 stone, and Johnny had his fair share of longer drives between the two. The patter was flying, but it was also interesting to hear the difference in diets and training regimes between the two. Mick reckoned he burned 5000 calories in a training day, and had to constantly eat to maintain his strength and muscle mass. Johnny on the other hand would do a six mile run, wrapped up in heavy clothes and a woolly hat(in summertime), followed by a sauna. He could loose four pounds in a day if he had to. Sometimes lunch would be a few grapes !!! When asked by someone when he rehydrated himself, his answer was..." November !!!"
We had an early tee time for Thursday, and I had hoped we would get the best of the weather.....Not so. We had wind and rain, and Paul battled well for a 1 under 71. In the afternoon, the rain ceased and the winds dropped, making scoring better, and we were in 37th place overnight. Hopefully the weather would even itself out on Friday...Wrong again. It blew a hooly in the afternoon, but again Paul fought hard, shooting 70, and moved into the top 30. Saturday was another tough day. From the first tee it rained until we got to the 13th tee. By this time Paul was struggling, five over for the day. He had a little chat to himself walking off the 12th, got his finger out, and birdied four of the last six holes, to recover the round. We had still dropped a few spots, but it could have been a lot worse. Sunday is always a chance to make a move, especially on this occasion, as it was windy all day. Our playing partner was Oliver Fisher. He and Paul get on well, despite the 20 year age gap ( I'll let you work it out) I asked Olly on the putting green how many years he had been on tour now..."This is my 7th year" I almost fell over. It didn't seem that long when he first came on your at 17 years old. As for Chippie, you could see the colour draining from is face..." God that makes me fee old" There was more to come. As we walked onto the first tee, the starter asked Paul if it was 1999 when he won the Open. When Paul answered yes, the starter replied.." Do you realise that was in the last century? It's time you bucked up and did something this century" You had to scrape me off the ground. Talking about giving the poor Chipster a complex. Anyway, he promptly ripped his drive 280 yards down the first into a strong wind. Olly was impressed!! The day was very similar for both players. Some nice stuff tee to green, but no putts were dropping, and they both returned 74's, which wasn't bad in the conditions, but neither player was too chuffed. A quick pack of the bag and we were off to the airport. It was the first time this year I had made it home on he Sunday night after a tournament....Bliss
We have a week off now before two great weeks in Caledonia..... The Scottish and British Open. Now that certainly gets the adrenalin pumping....