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Rory, I will buy your house at the right price!

It's a long way to China so I decided to leave early and stop in Dubai for a couple of days on the way.  The practice facilities and climate away from summer in Dubai are fantastic.  There are quite a few NI pros working out there at the big clubs.  2 of them - Justin Parsons and Neil Graham let me use the facilities at the Butch Harman golf academy and the Jumeriah Golf Estates.   They supplied me with a lot of water and new Pro v1x balls so practice went well.  I also got to catch up with my cousin Nicola and her fiancĂ© Ollie.  They've been out in Dubai for 7 years and have a big group of friends and acquaintances.  It's always good to hang out with them; it seems the ex-pat community has a lot of fun out there.


I took the Saturday morning flight to Shanghai, getting in at midnight.  The night flight was full as I'd left it late to book as I wasn't sure that I'd qualify for the event.  I was hoping to see if the jet lag would be any better getting off a daytime flight and heading straight for bed.  The drugs testing guy I met in Italy assured me this was the best way to combat jet lag. 


The tournament committee was pretty organized.  There were 3 cars at the airport ready to pick me up.  This never happens in China, generally they loose you're booking and forget to collect you.  I was very happy to get direct to the hotel this time, find my room and get into bed after some room service.  Unfortunately I couldn't get to sleep until 4am, which is only 9pm at home but that's why I tend to try and get out and onto the time zone early!  I didn't play any golf on Sunday, just walked a few holes and went into downtown Shanghai.  I knew I wouldn't venture into town once the tournament had started.  I love the skyscrapers, especially when they are lit up at night.  I could spend hours looking at them and going up to the viewing platforms. 


James arrived into Shanghai on Monday morning.  He was a little dopey and tired from the flight, but that might have been because Ryan McGuigan (Danny Willet's caddy) sat beside him.  Ryan is from Coleriane, and is a great friend of mine but boy can he talk!  When James was feeling a little more awake we played 9 holes with Mateo Manassero and his NI caddy Dave McNeilly.  I never feel far from home out on Tour as there are so many guys from Northern Ireland out here working in some form, either players or caddies.


This week there were 2 afternoon Pro-Ams, which is unusual.  Another unusual thing - we got golf buggies for the pro-am.  This never happens but it's a really long course; 7600yds with some big walks from greens to the next tees.  I played with an American, an Ausssie and a local Chinese guy.  The American guy had lived in China for 7 years and spoke fluent Chinese, it was bizarre to hear him speak it.  The sun came out about halfway round; it's always nice to see it in China, generally you don't see it from when you arrive until you leave again.  All you see is grey smog which is depressing when you come from Europe.


The dinner buffet at the hotel was pretty good.  A lot of players opted for the burger every night.  I love all the Chinese type food so the first few weeks are always a treat, when I leave Hong Kong on the 18th November I'm sure I'll be craving a big Sunday roast with all the trimmings.  Ian, one of the Pro Golf Health physios had been recruited for this trip at the last minute as the field was only confirmed a few weeks before the event, more of the players using the service had qualified to play and so an additional pyhsio was required.  Last time Ian looked after me I won so I was hoping for more of the same this time round.


I walked around the course with James on Wednesday morning charting the greens, as I did the week before in Portugal.  We had a fair idea of the pin positions for the 4 days and it was good to incorporate this routine.  I spent the afternoon working on the range and the chipping area as the course was closed for the second pro-am.


I had a good draw on Thursday, not too early with Robert Karlsson and Simon Dyson.  Dyson generally runs around the course and the last time I played with him in Wales at Celtic Manor I could hardly keep up!  This time I got off to a good start with birdies on 1, 5, 7, 10 and 12.  The thing I was happiest with - no bogies - which is a rarity for me!  When you're playing well the course seems easy but they'd set it up tough as the scores reflected.


We had a redraw for the second round according to your scores from round one, this doesn't happen in many events and I got to play with Rory and Jose Maria Olazabal.  Rory was great to play with, so relaxed.  We talked about all sorts of things - Monaco, Dubai, our mutual friend Harry Diamond and all sorts of normal stuff.  I even mentioned I'd buy his house if he did me a good deal but I'm not sure he'd give me a big enough discount for the bank manager to approve the loan I'd need!  It was nice for me to hit some solid drives finishing only 10 yards behind Rory's - I was a happy man!  I could have putted better but 2 under was reasonably solid and still left me in a good position over night.  My goal for the week was to move up the Race to Dubai rankings ensuring I got to play in Dubai in a few weeks' time.


I was paired with Martin Kaymer and Louis Oosthousien on Saturday.  I'd not played with Martin before and was looking forward to it.  Kaymer is a fantastic putter, as he demonstrated at the Ryder Cup.  He's been struggling a little with his long game, he's hitting it a lot more left to right than he used to.  Louis was rock solid as usual but just didn't look as comfortable on the greens.  I scored better than on the previous day and managed to shoot a 68 compared to their 69s.  It's always a huge boost to your confidence to play with top ranking players and score better, especially when there is a big crowd watching and you're playing in the final groups.  Its definitely where I want to be!


A good score put me in the second last group with Luke Donald and Charl Schwartzel on Sunday.  I'd not played with Luke since we were amateurs.  I was looking forward to the experience as I'm friendly with Luke's caddy John he shares with my coach Jamie.  There was a big crowd out to watch, which is unusual for events in China.  I was trying to stay relaxed and not think about the result or prize money, either can distract you from the task at hand.  I managed two nice putts in the first 3 holes to get to thirteen under.  Charl was struggling on the greens and had withdrawn from the HSBC Champions next week as he was fed up with golf.  Luke holes everything he looks at and he pressed ahead with birdies on 10, 11,  I slipped up on the back 9, a couple of soft bogies on 12 and 15 but I managed to birdie 13 and 16.  I was really happy with the putt on 16, it was from 15 feet and I felt my stroke was a lot better.  The last two holes were playing really difficult and I was pleased to parr in.  I finished tied 11th, my best result in a while.  I achieved my goal of moving into the top 50 in the Race to Dubai, hopefully it's enough to ensure I'm in Dubai in just under a month's time.  It's a great experience to play in these events and now that I know I can compete I can't wait for the next one.  I'm first reserve for the HSBC event but it's unlikely that anyone else will withdraw at this late stage so it's a week off in Thailand for Bev and I.  As I struggle with jet lag so badly there's no point in heading home for a week.  I'd only just be compos mentis before I'd have to get back on a plane heading for Singapore.  How Rory and the rest do it I've no idea - he was heading to play Tiger on Monday then to Bulgaria and then back to Singapore.  I guess age comes into it but it still makes me feel tired just thinking about it.