When I won the Farmers Insurance Open at the start of this year, someone told me that 2002 was the last time I’d won in January, so that was definitely a dream start to the season. After a lot of change in the off-season, it was nice to get all off to a great start and really build some confidence on that going forward. It also helped me really tailor my schedule exactly to try and peak and be fresh at the right times. I played a lot of golf at the end of last year, so my goal was always to play the three events in January and take a few weeks off before the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. The win meant I could take that time off with a good conscience, knowing that I wasn’t way behind in points, so it was ideal.
There are big events coming all the way through until August now and so the intention really is to build in a bit of a buffer. I really like the flow of the new schedule with one big event every month. It’s something to really get your teeth into. I’ve always been a fan of the Players Championship being in March and I like the fact that everything on the PGA Tour is tied up in August. It’s going to be interesting to have the PGA Championship in May and see what the golf course at Bethpage is like at that time of year.
The Masters is obviously on your mind in the weeks before, but I don’t really do much differently to specifically prepare for Augusta National. It’s about keeping your game fresh and sharp so you can peak for it. At the same time, you want to play well every week and I think it’s really important to try to be in contention once or twice heading into the Masters to see if everything is where it needs to be.
Putting is the one area that I will specifically work on in preparation for the challenges at Augusta. I’ll be talking to my guys at Albany and seeing if there are a couple of greens that they can pretty much brown out and 50 per cent kill so they’re fast enough to practice on heading into the Masters – and they will do that for me. I’ll also ask them to find pin placements that are on two-and-a-half or three per cent slope, so I really start to see the ball breaking into the cup. It’s some of those visuals that are tricky to just click right into if you haven’t prepared for it. They do a great job of trying to replicate as best they can, so my putting practice can be done on surfaces that are as close to Augusta’s as possible when I go home on my weeks off.
I’ve changed my philosophy about playing the week before the majors over time and I’ve done it both ways, but, for various reasons, this year I’ve decided to take a week off before all the majors. One of the main ones is the way the scheduling has panned out with the new look. For example, I really enjoyed playing Houston before Augusta, but I’m not willing to risk going to a new venue (now the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio) that could be very windy and a much tougher test of golf before the Masters this year. I felt like Houston was manageable, and you don’t want to be grinding too hard the week before.
I’ve been saying for a year or two now that I’m in my prime. I feel fit. I feel strong. I’m hitting the ball really well. I have the benefit of many years of experience under my belt. Now is a time for me to really go on and achieve my dreams. There are times in your career where you can chalk things up to experience if they don’t go your way, and there are times in your career where you have to just go and do it. I’m definitely in the do-it phase.
I’ve got a good record at Augusta, but I really want to get the win and get my hands on that Green Jacket. I just love the place and the tournament. I love driving through the gates, going up Magnolia Drive and walking into the clubhouse. I love looking out over the grounds. It’s a special place, an awe-inspiring place and somewhere I like to be.
I feel like I always learn something new every time I play there, and I really understand a lot of the pin placements. Augusta is about angles, and knowing where you can and can’t miss, when you can be aggressive and when you have to respect the flag. There are secrets, but at the end of the day, it’s about execution. I’ll be doing everything in my power to be in contention again on Sunday, April 14.