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No ice in Abu Dhabi but beware slippert tiles

The hotels in the Middle East are always extremely good.  For the last few years we've stayed at the Emirates Palace Hotel free of charge but this year the St Regis hotel were to be our hosts.  It's a brand new hotel out on Saadiyat Island.  It's a new development area of Abu Dhabi complete with golf course right on the beach, lots of huge villas, apartments and the hotel - it was fantastic!


I spent a few hours on Monday afternoon at the Saadiyat Golf Course putting instead of travelling the 30 minutes to the course the tournament was to be held on.  The course has a couple of impressive holes along the beach, but the fairways are generally wide, typical of a modern resort style course and its long!  I was tired from the long flight from Durban and decided to spend most of the day at the hotel, in the pool.  It was a lovely pool area and felt like it hardly had been used since completion.  Unfortunately I slipped on the very shiny tiles on the way into the pool and landed hard on my ass and back.  It hurt a little at the time, but I thought nothing more of it and continued swimming.  Later on I started to seize up and thankfully my trusty physio Shane was on hand to work on my back; if he hadn't been there I doubt I would have been able to hit a ball let alone make the cutt.  Small things like this happen every week to a number of players and it can make the difference between keeping your job at the end of the season and having to go back to Q school!


I went up to the course on Tuesday and joined David Drysdale and Pete Whiteford for 9 holes.  David drives the ball very straight, and was close to topping the Greens in Regulations list last year but he's struggled with his putting since changing from a Yes putter to the Callaway one to comply with his previous equipment deal.  He hit 24 out of 28 fairways during the week in Abu Dhabi but still managed to miss the cutt as his iron play was less accurate.  Randomly as we were playing our wives and girlfriends had met in the lobby for a bite of lunch.  Swapping stories about our day that night was entertaining!


The event in Abu Dhabi is always one of my favourites of the year.  The course is tough with narrow fairways and thick rough but the greens tend to be pure and a joy to put on.  It also tends to be an event where lots of things get announced.  I was happy to see Paul McGinley be awarded the Ryder Cup Captaincy.  I'm sure he'll be a fantastic leader and it'll be a great event, I just need to make sure I qualify for the team this time round!  In many ways the event this year was slightly overshadowed by the Ryder Cup announcement and then the Nike announcement with Rory.  I've never seen so many media personnel at an event!  It was big news even though it was possibly one of the worst kept "secrets" of all time.  It was interesting to watch the press conference whilst eating room service!  Definitely not the norm for an event.


I was up at the course early on Wednesday morning to take part in a Titleist instructional session.  As part of my equipment deal I have to provide Titleist with 4 days per year, so it's good to get one out of the way early in the season.  James (my caddy) and I walked 9 holes and I hit some balls after and then had physio.  My schedule this season on a Wednesday is a little different to the one last year.  I won't be in many of the Pro-Ams this year as I didn't finish high enough on the order of merit.  It's good in some ways as the pro-am rounds can take a long time (5-6 hours), sometimes in very hot weather.  On the odd week you can tee off early on a Wednesday, around 7am if it's only an afternoon pro-am but that's very rare.


I had an early start on Thursday morning, and was up at the course before sunrise.  I didn't hit that many fairways during the round but my short game was great and I was happy to get finished on level par.  I felt my bruised back towards the start of the round, but the pain had disappeared on the back 9 and I was happier with the final few holes.  We were home relatively early and decided to venture out to the Mall for a quick dinner and the new Jack Reacher movie.  I've read a lot of the Lee Child books, and so was dismayed when they announced Tom Cruise in the lead role but I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the movie.  Going to the movies is always an experience in the Middle East; generally the crowds are fairly badly behaved.  There's always a lot of movement and noise, people coming in 30 minutes late, answering phone calls and talking really loudly to each other or on the phone.  Thankfully this time was more peaceful!


I was still up early on Friday morning and decided to pop over to the gym before breakfast.  I like to keep fit but I'm not as dedicated as some of the lads.  Rory and Tiger were both in the gym, and looked like they'd been in a while when I arrived.  I'm always surprised by how much some of the guys train on mornings before a round.  I know they've built up to that level of fitness over years but it's always surprising and I spend most of the time watching out of the corner of my eye!  I spent the time on cardio just getting my heart rate up and then stretching; just trying to blow the cobwebs away really.  Tiger was performing some very explosive leg movements amongst other exercises and Rory spent quite a long-time on the rowing machine and then doing side bends with a heavy weight, working on his obliques.  My short workout had the desired effect and my on course performance was much improved.  I hit a lot more fairways and was driving the ball much better but the short game wasn't as good.  Still it's always nice to make the weekend in the first tournament in January, especially with such a strong field.


Saturday was a bad ball striking day.  I felt really dejected when I'd finished.  I was plus 3 for the final 4 holes which is never nice.  James and I headed straight to the range and Jamie met us there.  Two hours later I was much happier with my swing plane and we all headed for home.  It definitely helped on Sunday!  I was really happy to hit 11 fairways in the final round.  I just had too many putts.  I had 32 compared to Brandon Grace who only had 21 putts which is phenomenal and got to be close to a tour record.  I was back at the hotel by 1130 all packed up and ready to leave, it's a little bizarre to play the weekend and be finished that early.  Still we spent a few hours at the pool and then I headed inside to catch the final few holes of the golf.  I was really surprised that Justin Rose didn't hang on to win but Jamie Donaldson played some awesome golf over the last few holes and when it's your week things just work out, even the poor shots!  I thought his interview afterwards was interesting.  He said that he thought the course was too difficult during the Pro-am on Wednesday and thought he had no chance of doing well.  Thankfully the wind changed so it did play a little easier during the tournament.  It's always interesting to see guys like Jamie start to perform well later in their careers; he's 37 now and just really getting to grips with things even though he's been out here 12 years.  I'm sure he was wishing that some of the $5-6m in appearance fees the promoters are rumoured to have paid had been included in the prize fund.  Appearance fees are not allowed on the PGA Tour, everything gets included in the prize fund, but that doesn't happen in Europe.  Each week several players will receive a "swagg bag" to turn up and play the event and to do a few commercial events for the sponsors, the payment generally isn't connected to performance in the event.  It's an interesting difference between the Tours and one I suspect will become more evident as more top European guys leave the European Tour to play in America.