The Portugal Masters is up there on my list of top weeks. The weather is generally always good, the course and facilities are all close to the clubhouse, and we always stay in good accomodation. This year myself and another 4 caddies rented a lovely 5 bedroom villa just a short walk from Vilamoura's famous Marina. Now and again you have to be good to yourself!! For the first time I can think of, Paul wasn't in the pro-am. As he wasn't arriving till late on Tuesday, this didn't give us the opportunity for a practice round, however if you had to choose a course to play without any practice, it would be this one. It doesn't change from year to year, and the fairways and greens were soft.
As has been the case for the last couple of years, we had 'Chippie's Barmy Army' supporting us all the way each day. This was Paul's wife Marian, his sons Craig and and Michael, and family friends, Alan and Val Reid and Audrey and Brian Morrison. They followed for all four rounds, but it became evident early on that the men were here for the Superbock, and the girls were seeking the sun. Our first two rounds were very similar. On Thursday and Friday, Paul got off to a good start, both times being 3 under at the halfway point. On Thursday we dropped a few shots coming in for level par. Friday was a bit more of a mixed bag, and with two holes to go we were in danger of missing the cut, but a birdie, par finished meant we sneaked in on the mark. The only doubt was wether or not we would get to play any more golf, as the weather forecast for the weekend was dreadful. Thunderstorms and heavy rain was expected, and with the course already soft, it wouldn't take much more to put it under water.
The European tour took the decision to do a shotgun start early on Saturday morning, hoping to get done before the bad weather arrived. We started at 8am on the 2nd hole. It felt strange finishing in the first hole, then walking back to the clubhouse. It was very windy, and the tour had moved some of the tees forward to help speed up play. Paul struggled, as his back still wasn't 100%, and 75 was the tally. On the upside, we avoided the storms. All around us all morning we seemed to be surrounded by thunder clouds, but somehow they missed us. We got finished by 1pm, and by 3pm , I was down in the Marina enjoying a beer or two watching the rugby. Every cloud as they say....
The format was the same for Sunday, 8am shotgun start. It wasn't quite plain sailing this time, as heavy rain overnight had flooded parts of the course, and we didn't start till 10.30. The forecast was still poor, but again we got lucky and managed to get round without incident. Paul played much better tee to green, but struggled on the greens, which had become slower each day. Everyone was having the same problem. He signed off with a 71, which could easily have been 3 or 4 better, but I guess it typifies the way the season had gone. Normally on a Sunday, it's a quick pack of the bag then a mad dash to the Airport, but as I wasn't flying home till Monday morning, I enjoyed the luxury of a relaxing evening in Vilamoura. That's now the end of the 2015 European Tour season for us, so it's time to recharge the batteries, hopefully get in slightly better shape( I know, I say it every year) and prepare for next year. Merry Christmas when it comes folks....see you in 2016.
Although It's one of the tougher weeks, due to the six hour rounds, and the travelling involved between courses, the Dunhill Links is also one of the most enjoyable for me. We always stay in the same accommodation every year, a lovely apartment overlooking the 18th green on the Old Course. St.Andrews has an atmosphere like no other, and I always get goosebumps on the 1st tee, such is the history and aura of the place.
Our preparation for this tournament has always been the same. Nine holes at Carnoustie on the Tuesday, followed by practice at St.Andrews in the afternoon. Wednesday's consist of nine holes at Kingsbarns in the morning, lunch, and then a few holes on the Old Course on Wednesday afternoon. The main purpose of this routine is to get familiar with the greens on each course, and to see how they are playing. Many players make the mistake of playing too many holes in practice, then come the tournament, they are tired before they even start.( Nae chance of that happening to the Chipster!)
We had great tee times for a change. 9am on the Old course, 10.39 at Carnoustie, and 11.12 at Kingsbarns. The forecast was also very good. No rain, some sunshine, and a friendly breeze. Paul started with a steady two under par 70 at St.Andrews. The pins had been tucked away more than normal, and the putter was misbehaving slightly, otherwise it could easily have been two or three better. Shot of the day was our playing partner Chris Wood on the 18th. It seemed like the ball was only in the air for a second before he turned to his caddy and asked for another ball. His tee shot was out of bounds before it reached the top of its flight. Not for long though. A friendly nudge off the Russacks Hotel and it was back in the middle off the fairway. He wedged onto the green, tapped in for an easy par, eventually made the cut by shot, and signed off with a 65 on Sunday to finish 4th. Funny old game.
We played Carnoustie on Friday for our second round. The sun was out, but it was fresh. Paul started nicely, and was -1 through seven holes. Three short missed putts on the next 3 holes( very unlike him) took took the wind out our sails, and to rub salt into the wounds, the wind switched round 180 degrees on the 13th tee, meaning we played the toughest stretch of the course back into the wind. Lovely, just lovely.!!! A 3 over 75 was the final result, which put us at +1 overall, and needing a 65 on Saturday at Kingsbarns to make the cut. In our favour, this was the best scoring course of the week. Paul started well, and was-4 with 6 holes to go. Unfortunately a bogey on our 15th ended our hopes, and we ended up missing by three shots. I went back to the apartment, packed my case, and set off down the road. I was home for 8 o'clock. One of the benefits of living in the same country as the tournament, is that your never far away from home. I was back in time comfortably for a takeaway dinner and Match of the Day. Every cloud as they say.......