After being beaten up for two days around Natadola Bay, making it through to the weekend was both a relief but also somewhat daunting in that we still had two more days to survive and the weather forecast wasn't getting any better.
The true challenge was going to be all about staying in the game and trying to minimise any mistakes. To play conservatively and churn out the pars with the hope that some birdies would get in the way too. One, just one of the many little sub challenges along the way to that was your ability to try and figure out what club to hit in this wind. The task of knowing how far you hit the ball is something us pros pride ourselves on. This week in this weather you could almost through that whole book out the window, it felt like none of the years of hard work and training to get those numbers down pat meant anything. They were a guide at best. Faith is all about believing in something you can't see, faith and trust in your decision making in this wind was critical even though you really had no idea what was going to happen to your ball once the wind did its thing. Eighty metre 8 irons and 195m 8 irons were part and parcel, the challenge this week was to get the clubs and wind right more often than not. It was a little bit like batting in cricket where the boundary on one side was about as big as your backyard and then the other side was like the MCG, all using the same "club!"
On day three I was drawn to play with multiple major winner and former world number one Vijay Singh, in his home country. As a little side note this would bring my games of golf with major winners to three, Ben Curtis, Davis Love III and now Vijay. It was the traditional moving day although I think this week it was maybe more aptly going to be called "anchor day." Throw out the anchor and see if you could hold your position on the scoreboard. The average score for the field over the first two days was a tick over 80 so as you can see if you were able to maintain you starting score it would be a big move forwards.
I played well from the outset ripping it down the first and getting solidly through the first 4 holes in 1 under and surprisingly not feeling any nerves at all playing with Vijay. I think the fact that I hit off first on the first hole and ripped it and then watched him find the hazard with his shot instantly let me feel at home, he was just another human playing a very difficult course in difficult conditions and his impressive record in our sport really mattered for naught right in this moment.
I played faultless golf around the front nine but unfortunately back to back three putts on 9 and 10 left me at 1 over through 10 holes. The wind was now getting stronger after a much milder front nine and a slight reprieve from the 50k wind of the first two days. It was starting to blow now though out on the exposed backbone, beautiful but exposed.
The 13th hole really showed me something. It was a par three down breeze that had been proving very difficult to hold the ball on the green and in fact going just long rather than risking your ball stopping on the front and leaving an incredibly difficult putt was the better option and one most players were happy with. On this occasion I hit first and although my ball hit the green it rolled through and just over. So next was Vijay, until now I had matched him tee to green and if I'm being honest I reckon I actually had my nose in front on the ball striking front. I thought he might have been longer, maybe he was just cruising it to make me feel better! Anyway on this hole he hits his shot straight at the pin which was tucked left and a pin I thought downwind you couldn't go at. He launched his shot high and when it landed and spun short of the pin I almost had to pinch myself to make sure I was still with it and not dreaming. It was the first true showing of his immense talent that had taken him to world number one and I was seriously impressed. I didn't have that shot downwind and it was a shot I now am keen to master too.
After another bogey which was just a short putt missed in the wind, something most players did this week, I was two over for the day with two to play. Not quite the "anchor day" I had been looking for but also not a day where the anchor had broken free and I was drifting helplessly either. I finished at 2 over and was tied 17th going into the final round. For the record Vijay ended up getting my measure on the scoreboard but holding my own against him gave me a real boost in confidence.
The final day saw the mildest of conditions at least to start the day. We were playing an hr earlier as the forecast was for some really bad weather to arrive around lunchtime.....I thought we had already had the really bad weather!!
I was paired with Michael Sim and Alastair Presnell for the final day, two guys who have played plenty of golf in America although Simmy now lives on the Gold Coast. I have heard Simmy is a true great ball striker and swinger of the club so once again I was looking forward to experiencing some really quality throughout the day. He didn't disappoint shooting a very solid 2 under par for the day and did it without raising his heartbeat over his resting rate I reckon.....it looked easy.
I played my best golf of the week. Flawless ball striking for the exception of one poor mental decision on 6 which led to a bogey but otherwise my game was on. I made the most of the conditions and managed to rattle off 5 birdies to just that one bogie to close with a very pleasing 4 under par 68. I moved up the leaderboard and recorded my third top ten in a row on the Aussie Tour and in doing so I have already secured my Aussie card for next season. That's a great relief with some Q school stuff in Japan coming up and potentially meaning I will miss some of the Aussie summer.
It wouldn't be right if I didn't mention that I had the opportunity after the final round to spend some time on a kayak and snorkelling in the beautiful reef around the resort. I went out there after the final round yesterday and was treated to one of my favourite things in life, being on the water when it rains!! There is something magical about it I reckon and I think for me it's a place I feel closest to my God seeing creation at its finest but actually experiencing it too! Thanks God, some nice work there!
So what a week it was in Fiji, incredible winds, smiling faces of the locals, tears from some of the pros, new shots hit, new shots seen and wanting to be learnt, my best result ever in a big event, my card for 2016 secured and now I get to return home to my beautiful wife and kids.....this week I am winning!