I’m out reasonably early on Thursday (07.52) with Phil Mickelson and Branden Grace. Both are very good links players. Phil’s a living legend as we know and won the Open in Muirfield in 2013 while Branden finished Top 10 in 2017 and has won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland before.
It’s a good draw. It’s nice that I’m in a morning group. There’s a risk of high winds on Thursday afternoon, so I’ll be back in the clubhouse before that materialises.
The crowds are going to be huge too so an early start should help us avoid the later circuses when Rory McIlroy (10.09) and Tiger Woods (15.10) are out. But I’m sure we’ll have our own little circus with us as well. I’ve played with Branden a few times and I’ve played with Phil a couple of times and both are fine to play with.
Even though I’m playing with one of the best players of all time in Phil, everybody’s going about their own business, trying to do their own thing. You’re trying to play well, and it doesn’t really matter who you’re playing with. Hopefully we can all play well and drag each other along.
Tiger’s on the prowl
There was already a big crowd building around Tiger in practice. There always is. I was on the first tee when he was playing Tuesday morning and the crowds are always bigger around him. Tiger brings a whole different dimension to golf tournaments. That’s why it’s great to have him back. He’s had some time off and he’ll probably be refreshed and ready to go.
Like us all, we’re all trying to peak from Thursday to Sunday, and see what happens. I dodged Scotland after the Irish Open to get ready for this week and speaking to two or three lads that played there, I think I made the right choice.
It wouldn’t have been great preparation for me.
Practice makes perfect
I played nine holes when I arrived on Monday and actually played 18 holes on Tuesday which is not something I’d normally do. The weather was so good so I thought I’d just drive on and get more familiar with the surroundings. The old 17 and 18 have gone while seven and eight are the two new holes. There are a few different tee boxes and stuff, but other than that, in general it’s pretty similar to when the Irish Open was played here in 2012 and when I won the North of Ireland amateur in 2008.
Everybody is raving about the course and how good it is. The players really like it. I’m not sure they’ll all be saying that if a 20-mile an-hour wind kicks up – but we’ll see.
To be honest, I think it’s a driver’s golf course. There’s a lot of tight tee shots. If you drive the ball down the fairways, you can attack the course from there. If you hit it off line you’re going to get yourself in trouble. The rough is quite thick in places. There were only about two holes where I hit an iron off the tee, the rest I hit drivers. It’s totally a driver’s golf course.
There’s a lot of tight tee shots, so you need to be able to drive the ball well, no matter what club you’re hitting with. If you can hit the fairway, you can attack the golf course. That’s the way I see it. It’s all about staying out of the bunkers and then shoot and score from there. There are some very tricky holes. The first hole is tough enough because they’ve a new tee in there and there’s out of bounds on both sides, so that’s going to be difficult. The fourth hole always plays like one of the tougher ones in Portrush.
The new eighth is a tricky par four up over a corner. You can hit whatever you want off the tee, but I think it’s a driver. Then on the ninth, which is normally a par five for members, but a par four for us. That’s going to play quite tough.
The 16th is Calamity Corner where the name says it all, it’s a 240-yard par three.
The day I played it was downwind so I hit a 4-iron but if you get the wind in your face, it could be as much as a 3-wood.
It should make for great viewing on Sunday, because it’s all going to be up for grabs coming down to the last three holes. You have Calamity Corner, then on the 17th you can drive the green downhill, if you get lucky. At the 18th you have to drive an iron to the corner and then an 8-iron into the green, but there’s out of bounds on the left and it’s going to be quite daunting.
Anything can happen on those last three holes.
I’ve got the whole crew with me this week in a nice house about 10 minutes from the course. It’s perfect. I’ll just try to keep it as relaxed as possible. Love Island on the telly. There’s mixed views on it in the house whether people like it or don’t like it, but my wife Wendy likes it and she’s the boss!
No doubt it’ll throw up plenty to have a laugh about at least, but I’ll be in bed by 10pm every night to try and get as much sleep as I can. My regular caddy ‘Bo’ (Brian Martin) is back on the bag too. He was on paternity leave there for a couple of weeks after his son was born, so it’ll be good to have him back.
It’s going to be great fun and I’m really looking forward to it.