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Busy week at Carton House ends with deserved win for Paul

It was a busy week at the Irish Open with the Open Qualifier at Sunningdale happening on the Monday.  I finished the qualifier at 3pm, having played 36 holes, my first round started at 6:57 and then my "late" round started at 11:30.  I was able to get the 6pm flight back to Belfast, and met up with my father-in-law at Heathrow on the way home, he'd been over in London on business so I was able to get a lift from the airport too!  The earlier arrival gave me a little more time with Erin and Bev before packing up and heading to Carton House at lunchtime on Tuesday.  It took me two and a half hours to drive down to Carton and I spent a little time that afternoon putting and chipping with my new caddy Gerry Byrne.

I had an early pro-am time on Wednesday; it was a shotgun start at 8am.  I went to bed early at the onsite hotel, watching the Wimbledon highlights and was surprised to see Nadal had been beaten earlier that day.

The sun shone on Wednesday and it was a beautiful warm day, 20⁰C.  It sure was different to 2006, the last time the Irish Open was held at Carton House.  That year it was only about 8⁰C and we had hail stones and strong winds.  I was playing with a team from Invest Northern Ireland.  I'd played with their teams last year in Portrush and am keen to help them attract investment and jobs to the province so I was glad to be helping again this year.  Brian, Jeremy and Colin were good craic and almost in the prizes, but we were beaten on count back by Alvaro Quiros team for third place.  The course was in great shape and we rolled in a few birdies.  I had a career highlight as my game clicked and I had 5 birdies in a row, but 7 birdies in 8 holes and 9 birdies in total.  My previous best was of 4 birdies in a row.  All I could think was please don't use up all your good shots in the pro-am keep some for the actual event itself!  Several times over the last season I've had great rounds in the pro-am, but then haven't been able to deliver the same performances in the actual tournament itself.  The bunkers are really deep at Carton and can be a little tricky to get out of if you're not used to playing on a course like it, so I gave Jeremy a few pointers on the course.  His next shot was nice and crisp from a very deep greenside trap!  After the golf we had a lunch event with the teams in the Old Manor House.  The food was lovely and I picked up a lot of information from Colin regarding technology and connecting to the internet whilst travelling.  It's one of my pet hates when I'm away, Bev and I try and Skype each night but the internet in the players hotel is always slow; everyone else is trying to talk to their loved ones as well!  It gets frustrating every time it cuts out, or the picture goes!

I spent 2 hours at the short game area after the lunch practising my chipping and putting.  I always find this is the bit of my game that "goes off" when I've had a break.  The weather at home hasn't really allowed the courses to prepare their greens to Tour standard so getting decent putting, and chipping from proper rough has been difficult!

I was looking forward to my round on Thursday and had received a really good draw - I was out with Ryder Cup Captain Jose Maria Olazabal and Richard Sterne just behind GMAC and Harrington.  Richard has played well this year and won at the start of the season.  He and his wife Lisa Marie have also just had a little baby girl, she's about 4-5 weeks older than Erin so Richard was giving me some advice as to how to cope when I got home!  I was pleased with how I played on Thursday and I hardly missed a fairway or green.  5 Under was a good score, and I left a few shots out there on the course.  I could easily have been 7 under for the round and in the lead for the event!  I finished the day in second place, a great start to the event for me.   It's always a great feeling playing in the Irish Open - there are always people you know in the crowd and the crowds are huge compared to many of the other events we play on Tour.   You always know you're going well when the camera crews pitch up for your back 9 in the afternoon, and it's a great feeling knowing you're playing well enough to be on TV!

I didn't feel like I played much differently on Friday even though my score said I did.  I hit a similar number of fairways and greens, just missed a few short putts and got a few less favourable bounces.  It was also a little windier and the course was playing that bit tougher.  Jose Maria rolled back the years with some great iron shots and putts.  His driver still let him down at times.  Sterne finished well to make the cut.  It was strange to see Rory, Darren, Padraig and Graeme all miss the cut; they generally all play consistently well so to see all 4 miss the cut was very odd indeed!
Bev and Erin arrived down to have dinner with me on Friday night.  The deal was if I made the cut they would come down for the afternoon so I could have a cuddle with the baby.  I didn't realise quite how tiring it would be for them - 5 hours of driving when you've just had major surgery was maybe a little much but it was great to see my girls!  Both of them slept the whole way back up in the car so I have to say a massive thank you to the parents-in-law for doing the driving!

The weather on Saturday morning was a little unfortunate, it drizzled early on and I played well for level par, just a few putts to many!  The weather cleared up for the leaders and they shot really low scores.  The standard is great out here on Tour; I promise you the course really isn't that easy!
I played early on Sunday with a good friend of mine, David Drysdale.  I get on well with David, his caddy (Jamie Lane) and David's wife Vicky who travels each week.  David is a lovely striker of the ball.  We both struggled on the greens on Sunday, they were firmer and the ball was pinging off them if you didn't land it in the centre.  I played well for one under in the windy weather and David three putted the last for par, a disappointing end to the week!  I was on the road back up to Belfast less than half an hour after I'd finished playing, I'd packed the car up the night before so I could maximise the time at home before I left for Paris.  I was relatively happy with 32nd place when the results came out, it was just nice to be back out and playing! 

Paul Casey eventually came through to win, he's a fellow member at the Wisley in Surrey and I've gotten to know him a little whilst I've been there practising.  He's had a tough time of things lately, last season his golf was surprising by his standards so I was pleased to see him back up there.  He's also a putting machine when he's on and the long course set up well for him.  I was really pleased for Gareth Shaw, he finished 5th and secured a spot in next week's French Open.  It's a great achievement by him and another great experience for him, definitely different from Challenge Tour events! 
I was back in Belfast at 3:30pm, even sticking to the speed limit!  The joy of playing early!  It meant I'd a few more hours at home with Bev and Erin before I packed up to head to Paris on Tuesday lunchtime.  I'd just like to say a massive thank you for all the support I received over the week at Carton, people should be applauded for braving the conditions to watch us play.  It really turns the event into a great week for us players, one of the best weeks on Tour every year!