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No win but signs of progress in Morocco

I had a bit of an unconventional trip to Morocco this year.  I was starting from Dubai and not the UK for one thing, so I missed out on the charter flight the sponsors provide to the event.  I also had suffered from the norovirus during the week in Dubai.  After 2 days of being seriously ill, I was ready to leave the UAE behind.  It's unusual for me to be ill for that long, or to go without food for more than a few hours, but it seemed the only way to recover.  I headed to the airport on Sunday morning and didn't realize what a long trip I was in for.  The flight from Dubai to Casablanca is 8 hours long even on a 777, I had expected about a 4 hour trip, just shows what a big place Africa really is!  Then I'd to sit in the airport for three hours before hopping onto the one hour propeller flight down to Agadir.  It was a long old trip and I was glad that I was feeling a bit better before I started out.  The Emirates air steward took pity on me and served me my dinner as soon as the food was hot enough instead of halfway through the flight so I got plenty of sleep on board! 

I met Ian, my physio for the week, early on Monday morning and we had a quick gentle workout on the beach before I headed up to the club.  I spent about 2 hours filming for the European Tour Weekly programme.  I'd never had to film the link pieces for the programme before and it was an interesting experience.  I sure did feel like a huge star walking around the course accompanied by Mark and the camera man!  James, my caddy, turned up at about lunchtime feeling a little jaded; he'd been on a stag trip to Munich at the weekend so we decided an early night was in order and limited the amount of practice in the afternoon!

The course in Morocco is probably one of the most exclusive in the world; I think it only had 10 rounds of golf on it in the previous 12 months.  It's always in pristine condition, but then again they employ about 100 green keeping staff and gardeners so it really should be!  There are so few divots and pitch marks that it spoils us for every other week out on Tour!  I was to play the pro-am on Wednesday so James and I just played 9 holes and then continued with my practice drills on the range and putting areas.  I'd been working on flattening and shortening my swing in Dubai and I'd been feeling a lot more positive about it.  I'd hit a lot more fairways in India and then again during practice with Andreas Harto in Dubai, so I was looking forward to putting it into a tournament.  I tried to spend most of the practice time putting and chipping as the course is a little tricky; the ball spins of the greens easily so you have to chip really well during the week, like I did last year.  I certainly took the new swing to the course on Wednesday for the pro-am, my team won, so it was another victory in Morocco, just not quite the one I was really after!  Thankfully I played late in the pro-am and then had an afternoon tee time on Thursday, occasionally you get a late pro-am tee time and then an early start Thursday which David Drysdale had, it's back to the hotel and only a few hours' sleep before up at 530ish

I woke up on Thursday to very windy conditions; I knew the course would be playing tough with all the exposed greens.  This week I'd definitely got the better draw, which sure made up for the tournament in India.  Marcel Siem was playing the group behind myself, Francesco and Scott Jameison.  He holed a 5 iron and 2 bunker shots on his way to shooting 8 under; it was an unreal score given the course and the conditions!  When it's your week everything just seems to go your way and the game feels so easy.  Unfortunately Francesco, Scott and I weren't in the same zone.  Scott and Natalie his wife had come down with food poisoning or the norovirus and their luggage had also been lost on the trip out - definitely not a happy start to the week for them!  I shot +2 which was ok, but I'd a few clumsy little chips.  The greens were very spiked up and bumpy as they always are in the afternoons.  Even though the score wasn't brilliant I took a lot of heart from the performance as I hit almost all the fairways.

We had the best of the greens on Friday morning and I had 5 birdies in the first 8 holes.  I really should have finished on 7 under but my wedge control was not sharp enough.  I ended up with a 69, 3 under and a guaranteed weekend.  I was happy to go home on Friday afternoon knowing I'd made the cut!  Jamie Gough, my coach keeps an eye on my stats and he was pleased to tell me I was third in the fairways hit, with over 90%, after the first two rounds.  It was a huge improvement for me.

I started well on Saturday morning but a triple bogey on the 8th par 3 ended my tournament.  I ended up playing ping pong backwards and forwards across the elevated upturned saucer green.  I was over hitting or under hitting the chips and it was very frustrating especially as chipping is normally strength of my game!  I birdied the next two holes so had regained some of the "escaped prisoners" and wasn't too far back.  I finished a little poorly and dropped down the rankings.

I had an earlier start on Sunday and hit a lot of fairways and greens although my chipping still wasn't up to the usual standard.  I had 4 birdies in a row from 8 through 11 and carded a respectable 70.  It maybe wasn't the week I'd hoped for, obviously I wanted to retain the title and be awarded another dagger but there were a lot of positives to take from the week.  The swing is definitely getting better and I'm now looking forward to the rest of the season.

Marcel played awesome golf from start to finish and might have nabbed the last Masters spot as a result, it's an awesome event and one I hope to get back to in the next few years.  I'll try and watch a little of it, especially over the last day.  I firmly expect to see Rory up there in the mix come Sunday afternoon no matter what the commentators are currently saying!  As for me it's back to NI for a few days in the cold.  I'll be cheering Ulster on from the comfort of a pub up the North Antrim coast instead of making the trip to Twickenham this year but I wish the boys all the very best.  Make Twickenham home!

It's hard to believe it's been a year since I started my column.  It really has flown in!  Some of the year I'm happy with, some I'd like to forget but I've learnt a lot and I'm excited about the rest of the season!