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Looking forward to some family time

The Race to Dubai ends with the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai.  This is a massive tournament for the European Tour, the prize fund is up to $8m and all the top guys compete.  To be eligible to play in the field you have to be in the top 60 on the money list before the event.  Even though I'd missed Hong Kong I was still in the top 60 and was really looking forward to the event.  I played in it last year for the first time and even though I hadn't played that well I really enjoyed the experience.

There is a bonus pool for the Race to Dubai, like in the FedEx Cup; unlike the American tournament we don't reset the points.  Rory had already won the Race to Dubai before he even tee-d off in Dubai, which Luke Donald said was anticlimactic, not a great advertisement for the Tour.  I think it's a much fairer system in Europe; the best player all season takes the season title, whereas the US places more weight on the last event.  Rory was piped to the post in America by Brandt Snedeker.  I guess it's more of an American thing; all their sports are finished off playoff style!
I played 9 holes on Monday, but I still wasn't firing on all cylinders.  After 2 weeks of antibiotics I just took it easy and didn't hit too many balls.  It was great up at the course; everyone had still to arrive from either Hong Kong or South Africa so James and I had the place to ourselves.  It really didn't feel like a tournament week, with all the half built houses surrounding the empty course, but James and I got through what we needed to and headed home out of the heat.

I like the course.  It has generous fairway width with very large, fast slopey greens.  The surfaces are fast but true and they are amongst the best we putt on all year, so I was looking forward to playing on them.  The only issues are the fairway bunkers - they have huge lips and it's easy to leave the ball in them.  The course was in great condition and I knew the scoring was going to be low!

I was 3rd reserve for the pro-am on Tuesday but late Monday night loads of people withdrew and suddenly I had to be up for the 7am shotgun start.  The hotel we stay in for the week is 30-40 minutes for the course so I was up bright and early around 530.  Our team didn't play well, we only had 10 birdies in "par is your friend format", but it was good fun!  The guys who play in the Pro-Am this week are all Tour sponsors; the team I played with had supported golf tournaments in the region for 15 years.  The Pro-Am finished at about 12, and then I did a little practice with Jamie and headed out to meet the Titleist guys.  As I'm a staff player I'm contracted to do 2 sponsor days with them each year, unfortunately my day fell after the Pro-Am.  I was knackered and the heat wasn't helping as we stood waiting on the helicopter arriving from Abu Dhabi.  Titleist were launching their new golf ball in the Middle East and I was chosen to talk the journalists through how players might test a new golf ball.  I basically had to show them all the shots players would hit when trying to select a new ball.  It was the most nervous I've been when doing something like that.  There wasn't a range set up so the guys were standing right on top of me and I was just trying to concentrate on making good shots.  It was nice to be involved but it was a really long day, I didn't get back to the hotel until 6pm.  12 hours at the course is a really long time, but it's sometimes part of being a pro golfer.
I considered staying in bed all day Wednesday as I was still feeling below par but I decided to go up to the course and hit 30 balls and putt for 40 minutes, have a physio treatment and then go back to the hotel.  It's a very exciting life sometimes!  Stephen Watson caught me when I was up there so I did a short interview for him, rounding up my season.  He was out to interview Rory when he was awarded the Race to Dubai title but it was nice to be included by the press back home.

This tournament is a little different than most of the others, there are only 60 players, we play in 2 balls all week and most importantly there is no cutt.  We also get tee-times on Thursday according to our ranking prior to the event, tee times for the rest of the week depend on how you play.  I was ranked 52 so had an early tee-time.  I was drawn with Romaine Wattel, a young French guy, who'd just flown in from qualifying school in America.  He'd made it through to final stage so was heading back out to California on Monday following the tournament.  I had a lovely start and was 3 under after 9, cruising along.  I had a loss of concentration on the 10th and sent my driver into a bush, ending up with double bogey but managed to pick up another birdie on the way back in to card a 2 under 70; so much better than last year!

I played with Thomas Aiken on Friday.  He has an unorthodox swing but is a very strong putter and is extremely impressive when he's on form.  We both got going well.  I was a little up and down but managed 2 eagles on the 14th and 18th for a 1 under 71.  Thomas was more solid with 6 birdies, he moved up the field a lot.  The course wasn't playing tough and I knew the leaders would tear it apart when they started.  The course sets up great for the longer hitters like Rory and Louis.  There are a few bunkers at 290 yards but if you can carry them it makes the course so much shorter!
I played with Soren Kjeldson on Saturday; he's a lovely guy who has made over $10m in career earnings.  He's not that impressive to watch but can get the ball in the hole, which is what counts!  I chipped in for eagle on the 7th to get to 3 under thinking here we go I'm on for a low score only to make a few simple mistakes on the 8th, 13th and 17th to finish 1 under for the day.  Days like these are always frustrating!  Good golf requires concentration and focus and mine were week on Saturday.

I played with Paul Lawrie on Sunday, the first time I'd ever played with him.  He had 9 years between his wins on Tour, and this season was his best ever even though he's 42.  It gives me hope!  He didn't miss one fairway all day but couldn't read the greens and was frustrated with his one under.  I was exhausted and could hardly make a proper swing but battled well for one over after 17.  I hit a really poor second shot on the 18th that hit the kart path and bounced out of bounds, pretty unlucky but the shot deserved it.  My fourth then rebounded off the rocks just short of the green and bounded back down the fairway.  It was a dig in the guts that summed up my week.  The only positive I could find, at least I'd made the top 60 and had played much better than last year.  It just makes me more determined to press on in 2013.

I was back at the hotel and tucking into some room service as Rory and Luke were playing their final holes.  It was good TV and we were torn between supporting Rory and Justin.  5 birdies in a row when he needed it to take the title at 23 under is awesome golf, and it's not that easy a course which just makes it all the more impressive.  It further confirms his status as World No 1 and I think it's great for golf to have such a good young guy reinventing the game. 

Bev and I headed back to Dublin on the 7am flight on Monday morning, we'd planned to stay until Tuesday to have a day relaxing in Dubai but I just wanted to get back to see our families.  I'd been away too long on this trip and a week or two of home cooked meals were high on my priority list!  My 2013 season starts in 3 weeks time in Leopard Creek in South Africa.  It is one of the most exclusive and unique events we play and I am really looking forward to it, hopefully I will have firing on all cylinders by then and be raring for the start of the new season!