I am so looking forward to playing this week’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. The golf course at Mount Juliet Estate is in great shape.
I have just played my final practice round before the first round on Thursday morning, with Tuesday — I was told by the locals — being is the hottest day of the year so far. It feels like I am in Spain rather than Ireland! Let’s hope it continues all week. Fingers crossed.
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The course is playing firm and fast thanks to the dry spell of weather. I am not playing in Wednesday’s Pro-Am as it is a reduced field with a one-tee start because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Unlike in many previous years, this year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is being played on an inland park land layout rather than a links course.
The set-up by the European Tour is very fair as I see it from a player’s perspective and the best player with the lowest score over 72 holes will raise the Waterford Trophy on Sunday night.
The greens are on the firm side and running at around 11ft on the stimpmeter (which measures green speed) and, if the European Tour wants to, they could get this up to perhaps 12ft by the end of the tournament week.
The course yardage is not long and I suggest a straight hitter rather than a ‘bomber’ will take the trophy after 72 holes of battle.
Due to the European Tour’s ‘tournament bubble’ we are all staying in the same hotel some 20 minutes coach drive from the golf course, which is OK for us players.
I have been given an 8.50am time off tee 10 with James Morrison (England) and Joel Stalter (France) on Thursday. I have played with them both already this season, so it is a comfortable draw for me for the first two rounds.
I would love to have been paired with Rory McIlroy, but I am patient and would like to play with him over the weekend with a very late tee time on both Saturday and Sunday as that will mean I am in the mix. Am I dreaming? Or is this realistic? Only time will tell.
It will be great to have crowds in attendance this week. I am hearing that 2,000 spectators a day spectators plus an allocation for sponsors is the limit.
Too many events this season have had no spectators present, so this number will create a tournament buzz that us players will respond to and enjoy.
My game plan this week is to hit a few irons off the tee on some holes to keep the ball in play and then attack some Par 5s with a driver.
My caddie and I arrived in town on Saturday but could not get access to the golf course at Mount Juliet until Monday this week.
We came to Ireland early to get adjusted to the weather and the course conditions and to links golf prior to hopefully playing in The Open at Royal St Georges in a couple of weeks in mid-July.
Over the weekend, I played Rosslare Golf Links, which is one of only 50 Irish links courses and is the only true ‘links’ golf course in the south east of Ireland. I want to thank them for their genuine warm welcome and Irish hospitality. I played there to get a feel for the different grass and soil conditions in this part of the world.
I have a new caddie Steven Tooby on the bag this week. It is never easy adjusting to the dynamics of having a new caddie on tour. I have been impressed with the chemistry between us both and I hope we can carry this to the tournament proper on Thursday morning.
My coach Mike Walker under the mentorship of Peter Cowen has sadly fallen victim to COVID-19 ‘Track and Trace,’ but I hope the work with Mike over the last few weeks can help me deliver this week.
I am very positive, as usual for the week ahead. I have always been a glass-half-full type of person, rather than a half-empty guy.
With the Pro-Am meaning the golf course is closed to non-Pro-Am players, I will ensure I hit some practice shots on the range on Wednesday.
I currently stand 149 in the Official World Golf Ranking and want to climb as soon as possible within the top 100, where I have been before. I hope everyone in Dubai, my new home is watching us all this week.