As I was saying in my previous update the Players Championship is one of those tournaments where I’ve not really had much success, just four top-10s in my previous 18 appearances. Well, my 19th appearance didn’t set that record straight. I don’t know. It’s a wonderful golf course but there is something about it that I just can’t seem to get to grips with. I didn’t play too badly, but after a pair of 74s that was me done for the week. If I had to put my finger on one thing it was my driving. I didn’t hit enough fairways, which makes it tough to score here. Very disappointing, but there you go.
On a brighter note, it was wonderful to be there on Wednesday night with my fellow South African golfers Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini to celebrate the career of Gary Player who was receiving the PGA Tour’s Lifetime Achievement Award. It was a fun night and of course it is a richly well-deserved honour for Gary. He’s one of golf’s true legends, a hero of mine when I was growing up, and a man I am now proud to call a great friend.
This week’s tournament in many ways celebrates the life of another legend of the game, Byron Nelson. I won the Byron Nelson in 1995, the first time I’d ever teed it up in this tournament, but this will be the first time I’ve played it since 2006.
This year would have been Byron’s 100th birthday and it says a lot about the man that his legacy still endures on the PGA Tour today. He was a real gentleman and I count myself blessed to have got to know him and enjoyed his company over dinner a few times. Winning the tournament all those years ago and talking to Byron afterwards is still one of the standout memories of my professional career.
As many of you golf fans will know, the HP Byron Nelson Championship used to be played on two golf courses the first couple of days – the TPC, the tougher of the pair, and Cottonwood Valley where I shot a course record 61 on the way to winning the tournament 17 years ago. Then at the weekend we’d play TPC both days. They changed that format in 2008 and now all four rounds are on the TPC layout.
When I think back over the years my record in this tournament has been pretty strong. As I said, I won here in 1995 and I’ve got quite a few top-10s under my belt. TPC is a good test of golf and has statistically one of the most demanding opening stretches of holes on the PGA Tour. Hitting fairways is very tough, so I’ll have to step it up a bit from my performance at Sawgrass last week. The rough tends to be quite severe here as well, so fairways and greens is really the name of the game.
If it’s calm then players will go pretty low this week. But this is Texas, remember, and it can get windy. That means playing conditions become more challenging. You need to be able to hit a lot of different shots, use the wind or hold shots up against it. You have to use your imagination and I’ve always kind of liked that.
Let’s see how we go.