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Diagrams are a golfers best friend on the greens

We flew to Faro on Monday afternoon from Gatwick.   It gave us time to unpack and repack after the Dunhill, a little more time than planned but these things happen.  The airline didn't charge too much excess baggage this time so we were lucky.   A tour bag with shoes and a few spare clubs can weigh in at 28kg; the excess baggage can often be more than the price of the ticket.  You always stand at check in nervously wondering how much they'll ask for.  It's always a bad start to the week when it happens!

It's a great time of year for the Portugal Masters there are always a lot of people from back home down for the week so the tournament has a great atmosphere and the temperature is generally not too hot.  Unfortunately it's our last tournament in Europe until the middle of April next year, almost seven months!  With the economic crisis that's been gripping Europe for the last few years the Tour has lost 2 of the events in Spain.  The events were those held at Castellon and Valderamma, both had large prize funds and full sized fields so everyone could get in.  There has been an increase in much smaller select events this year.  Sponsors seem to be happy to set up huge prize funds for a smaller number of "higher profile" players.  It's great if you qualify for the field but it's making it harder for normal players to make a living and seems really unfair at this time in the season.  The Turkish airways event this week with Rose, Rory, Tiger, Justin, Westwood, Webb Simpson and Schwartzel illustrates the point fantastically!  There were 8 players competing for $5.2m, last place guaranteed $250k.  There are another two small field events in China in the following two weeks which are also really hard to qualify for.  It's great if you're included as you're guaranteed wages but not if you're still chasing money to keep your job for next season!

Tuesday followed the normal routine of 9 holes, physio, and range time.  James and I also spent a lot of time charting the greens.  It's not something I've spent a lot of time doing previously but when I was in America I noticed a lot of the guys spent most of their practice rounds on the greens.  Graeme and Ian Poulter famously draw their own green diagrams and it's something I can definitely improve at.  We can generally work out the locations of the pins, and can use last years as a guide. It's really helpful to have some idea of the breaks.  I spent the time rolling putts and drawing on the diagram of the green in my yardage book, not rocket science by any means but helpful especially when the break is unexpected.  It can take at least 10 minutes more per hole in the practice rounds but it's definitely worth doing and will be part of my new routine.  Half way round we popped back to the apartment for lunch.  The apartments are on site this week and are really high spec so Bev had food ready for us - no queuing in the Players' Lounge for me this week!

I had an afternoon Pro-am on Wednesday and played with 3 Portuguese guys.  I had played amateur golf with one of them years ago, when he played for Portugal.  He now works in Golf Tourism in Lisbon.  He was hitting it so far off the Amateur Tees, even driving some of the greens!  Unbelievable!
I'd another late tee time on Thursday and was partnered with local star Ricardo Santos and Raphael Jacquelin.  I think we had the biggest crowd on the Thursday.  It's always good if you hole a few putts.  Unfortunately I didn't, even with the extra work I'd put into my preparation.  I played really well for one under parr in tough windy conditions and was happy to be top 30 when I went to bed.  All three of us finished on the same score but Ricardo got the biggest cheers!

We started at 8am on Friday morning, the second group out.  I got off to a nightmare start.  A bad bounce on 11 led to an awkward stance in a bunker, the chip shot wasn't easy and I ended up bogeying the hole.  Then my tee shot on 12 found the fairway bunker, close to the lip and I'd no choice but to lay up.  Unfortunately I thinned it straight into the water, resulting in another bogey.  I recovered well and finally a couple of putts dropped, I birdied the 9th to finish on level parr.  Thankfully the afternoon wind picked up and I snuck in for the weekend.

I played with Jacquelin again on Saturday.  It's always nice to try and feed off his rhythm.  We both misread the greens as we had a lot of double breaking putts.  It was a long and frustrating day for us both.  I finished one under and he on level so we definitely would not be playing together on Sunday.  Jacquelin is also one of the players on the Tour Players Committee so I was able to pick his brain about the future direction of the Tour and add my two scents worth as well!

I played with Robert Jan Derksen on Sunday, he's possibly one of the nicest guys on Tour and I always enjoy my rounds with him.  It's his last even on the European Tour this season; he's off to the US PGA qualifying school next week.  A lot of European guys are trying this year as it's the last season where the Tour school gets you a start on the main tour.  Tour school in the future will only get you a start on the Nationwide Tour, the equivalent of the Challenge Tour in Europe.  Its 3 stages over 3 months in the US, the competition will be huge and hardly anyone gets through.  You don't get any exemptions if you've won a European Tour event, but you do if you made the cutt at a Major.  I might have been tempted to go had I played the weekend at Kiawah Island but getting disqualified changed my mind.  I'd also have to miss the end of the season in Europe, which isn't ideal as it's a series of really large prize fund tournaments.  I've decided to just keep working on my game and try to improve in Europe at the moment.  Several people have said it's so much more competitive in America and that until you start playing consistently well in Europe there's no point trying in the States!  Sunday's performance left a little to be desired - I was 2 under after 3 holes and was playing really nicely.  Then I lost my tempo and my tee shots were a little wayward.   I found the water on 7 and a bush on 5 but managed to pull it back on the way in even though hardly any putts dropped.   I was averaging 30 putts per round and the leaders were on 26.  That was really the big difference in my game this week!  I shall be camping out on the putting green next week!  Then I leave for 2 months as the Tour heads to Asia and South Africa before Christmas.
I was really happy to see Shane win his second title and his first one as a professional.  He's a top lad and I'll be spending a bit of time with him in China.  Bev's not coming to the event as we're moving house again.  I'm leaving her at home to pack all the boxes and organise the move - she assures me it'll go much more smoothly when I'm nowhere near it!