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Volvo event ideal preparation for Middle East stage

Our journey to South Africa was a little disjointed, we were meant to leave Mahe and fly to Dubai then change flights and fly straight down to Johannesburg.  Unfortunately our first flight was so late that by the time we reached Dubai our second flight was already on its way to Johannesburg.  Emirates had already rebooked us onto the early morning flight the following day but we wouldn't have reached Johannesburg in time to make our onward flight to Durban.  Once we explained this we were able to switch flights direct to Durban, spending one night in Dubai, all at the expense of the airline.  Result!  Internal flights in South Africa are not my favourite thing in the world; your golf clubs tend to disappear for days on end, and you despair of ever seeing them again.  Bev was happy only to have the one flight as her cold was still troublesome, especially at altitude!

We arrived into the Emirates lounge in Dubai in good time for the flight and met up with Jamie Donaldson, James Baker (my caddy) and Punk (Richie Ramsay's caddy).  All were on our flight, as were Danny Willet, Thomas Bjorn, Matteo Manassero and Francesco Molinari.  It always makes me wonder what would happen to the Tour if a flight like this would crash!

We arrived into Durban after a long 8hrs 20min flight and 1hr 30 in Dubai on the ground waiting to get an air traffic control slot, travelling is such fun at times! We were expecting heat and sunshine but were greeted with big black clouds and fork lightening.  It was Bev's first trip to the area and not what we'd expected.  Thankfully the clouds cleared and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were glorious sunshine!  It was hot for the Pro-am on Wednesday, 5 hours in 32⁰C plus heat is never nice but it is always better than the rain!  I had a great team and enjoyed the craic, just didn't play all that well.

The drizzle started on Thursday morning, and Bev was happy as the temperature had reduced dramatically!  I was drawn to play with Retief Goosen.  Retief had been a bit of a hero of mine when I was younger.  It was the first time I'd ever played with him and I was looking forward to it.  I was expecting a quiet round, as Retief doesn't tend to say a word on the course but in the end we chatted a bit.  It was the first time Goosen had played in 5 months.  He had back surgery last year to replace a disc in his lower back and this was the first competitive golf he's played since.  I played great for 15 holes; I was 4 under and on the leader board but then I hit 2 poor tee-shots on the 16th and 18th holes and finished the day on par.  It was the same score as Goosen but how our rounds differed!  My old swing kicks in when my concentration dips a little, sometimes towards the end of the round.  I just need to keep working on it.  I was glad we finished early, the rain really picked up and it was really unpleasant for the guys teeing off later than us.

It rained solidly overnight and was still drizzling when I turned up at the club on Friday morning.  Unusually for a Tour event there had been a redraw on Thursday night and we all played with guys who'd shot the same score the day before.  Even more unusually it was a pro-am competition.  We played in teams of 2 Pros and 1 Amateur, 2 best scores to count.  There were good prizes on offer for the Pros so it was a day to play good golf.  Volvo runs a series of events worldwide called the Volvo Challenge; the winners from the various countries all qualify for a spot in the event on the Friday.  They get some really nice presents as well - clothes, tour size golf bags, and the event itself.  It's an awesome idea and a really well run day.
Because of the overnight rain the course was wet underfoot and preferred lies were in operation.  I was drawn to play with Julien Quesne, a young French guy I've known for a few years on Challenge Tour.  I can honestly say he's one of the most improved players over the last few years.  He's worked hard and it showed on Friday; he played almost faultless golf!  The only downside being a self-called penalty on the 7th green; he felt some sand on his ball meant he'd double hit a really short putt and when we consulted the rules officials it was a one shot penalty.  I, on the other hand couldn't hit a fairway!  This is not the sort of course you want to be off-line by even a little.  The fairways are tightly surrounded by bush and anything off-line is a lost ball.  It's always really frustrating and slightly embarrassing when you hit it all over the place when your playing partner is having a blinder!  Our Amateur partner was a young Chinese guy only just turned 20.  He's only been playing golf for 3 years and has a handicap of 10 already.  He has a great swing and played pretty well from the tees once he conquered his nerves.  Unfortunately his English wasn't that good, and my Chinese is non-existent so we couldn't really communicate much.   As we finished we were in with a good chance of winning, mainly thanks to Julien's fine display but Louis and Tongchai ran away with it in the end.  Louis, being a farmer swapped the car for a Volvo digger for the farm.

We had another redraw on Friday night, and our tee-times were pushed back a little to accommodate an ANC rally at the Sharks stadium located right next door to the golf course.  They were expecting hundreds of thousands at the event and traffic was anticipated to be difficult.  I was looking forward to the round as I was playing with the Ryder Cup Captain, Olazabal.  Thankfully it was some of the best golf I've played in years!  I was 7 under after 13 holes, but could have been 9 under easily.  In the end it was 6 under but a very satisfying round!  I'd made a slight adjustment to my right arm position and a slight change in my grip which helped me get my arms more in synch with my body.  I only missed 2 fairways all day - such a change from the day before!  Jose Maria struggled off the tees and had 4 balls in the trees, it's difficult to recover from that on this course, but somehow he manager to shot level par.  Dinner always tastes much better after you've played well, even if it's not great food or service!

I had another first on Sunday getting to play with Paul Casey.  He's a nice guy and I've spoken to him a few times of late at the Wisley as he's a member there too.  We both played pretty well but I couldn't buy a putt all day.  I hit the lip 4 times which is always frustrating!  He left most of his short; the greens were a little slow as the rain meant they couldn't really cut them.  It was a hot and unpleasant day, 30⁰C and 85% humidity, so it was tough going!  You can't drink enough on days like that.  I managed to sweat off most of my Christmas dinner and had to tighten the belt a notch!
All in all it was a decent week showing some of my best golf for a long time.  It was certainly a good warm up for the events coming up in the Middle East.  If it rains in the desert it may be the final straw and I will have to agree with Dennis Pugh that the rain is just following me!

I'm really looking forward to the event in Abu Dhabi.  We're in a new hotel this year which is closer to the course on Saadiyat Island.  I think I'll have a sneaky look at the course on Saadiyat on Monday then head to the course on Tuesday.  This is always one of the best courses we play all season.  The greens are pure; the rough over-seeded and thick, balls off line are definitely punished this week.  Rory and Tiger are both playing and I can't wait to compete.