This week there were 97 hopefuls that started the week hoping for one of the 27 spots that would give you the chance to do it all again over 6 rounds in freezing conditions in a few weeks time at Japan Tour finals. By the start of rd 4 this week though that number had been shrunken down due to a combination of both poor play and good play. A bunch of guys playing well and distancing themselves from some guys not playing so well.
At the start of the day the "number" was at 5 under par, 27 guys exactly on that score or better through 3 rounds. My buddy Matt Stieger from sth of the border was on that score himself and driving to the course in the morning we discussed what we thought the "number" might be by the end of the day. We thought if he got to 7 he would be safe but his thoughts were to get to 10 just to make sure. I was starting he day on -8 so for me it was about playing solid and not making mistakes. Every birdie I made would give me more breathing space. The problem I had though was that if I slipped backwards and ended up on the "number", I would most likely miss out on a countback as that system goes off your last round first. Anything over par usually is bad news where countbacks are concerned!
I am sure it's the same no matter where you are playing these final days, there seems to be times throughout the day where oxygen starts to run thin on the course and guys start struggling for breath.....!! I was hoping not to have that happen to me but I have seen and felt those times before and it's not fun.
My group all started ok and with the exception of me everyone had made birdies by the turn and the 3 of them were all under par. I had played well myself but birdie putts were lipping out today causing an ever so slight increase in both pressure and tension. My one missed green on the front nine left me in a horrible position but a sublime chip and great putt saw me salvage par. So out in 9 straight pars to remain at 8 under, no extra breathing space yet.
The back nine saw more birdies amongst my group but as had been the case on the front nine, the locals were hogging them and none were coming my way. When I lipped out for birdie on 13, I had lipped out 6 times and had multiple other near misses for birdie with 13 straight pars to start the day. It wasn't the end of the world, I was playing nicely and still inside the "number" we thought would be the mark at the end of the day. The only issue was that 14 and 15 were holes I had struggled with all week and 17 was a strong par 3 over water, there was work to be done and no mistakes to be made.
The 14th hole saw an sudden drop in oxygen levels from the moment the first player in our group hit his tee shot. All the guys were under par and cruising, 4, 3 and 2 under, no reason for stress or panic at all. I wasn't panicking and I was the one at even par. The first guy hits a hook that takes two bounces and finds the hazard up the left side of the hole. It's a hazard I know all too well as I hit it in there 2 years ago in this exact moment in the final round. It wasn't what I needed to see, bring back those memories at a crucial time of the day. Second last to hit I changed my angle on the tee block and ripped it up the middle, my best down this hole for the week leaving me just a 9 iron to the flag. Old mate took his drop and penalty and then found the green side bunker with his third. He was 3 under and no real cause for concern still although I could see his mind racing. I hit my best shot of the day and it looked like it might go in but stopped just 3 feet from the pin. At this point was where the other guy in the group, the guy at 2 under took his turn at vomiting all over his shoes, or in other words hit a terrible shot that made him want to be sick. He was perfect in the fairway but found the hazard near the green, tried to play it from near the rocks and proceeded to duff his shot into an unplayable position. A resulting drop and double bogey 6 combined with the first guys bogey 5 sent warning signals through the group that may have been picked up on radar systems around the world. What was happening? These guys were cruising with 5 to play and then all of a sudden decided to self implode! I made my putt finally giving myself the extra space from our "number" and headed to 15 looking for a solid par.
Things didn't get too much better for the boys though, one backing up his bogey from 14 with a very nervy bogey and the other guy struggling for his par. Par for me too and off to the short par 4 16th hole. I could barely watch these guys at this point as what was flawless golf for some 4 hrs was turning into a possible disaster for them. I chose to have my attention on my intention and ripped it down the middle and put my second 10 foot from the hole. Thankfully the guy who had just made two bogies in a row made a birdie here and at 10 under with two to play looked safe from the 7 under we thought might be the mark. I made my putt for birdie too and joined him at -10.
I had the first crack at 17, the par three across water which was kind of the last major hurdle in my day. I knew as long as my golf ball wasn't wet after this tee shot that my job was almost done. I hit a great looking shot straight at the pin but to my dismay it flew long of the green and kicked savagely leaving me a horrible shot from the rough on a downslope needing to stop the ball on a downslope hitting back towards the water.....difficulty rating of 10/10 especially given the timing! My buddy who was also at -10 didn't learn much from my misclubbing and also hit it over the green. Now for him this seemed far worse as he had been riding the roller coaster for s few holes now and was getting whiter and whiter in the face by the minute. We arrived at the green to assess the situation and my assessment was spot on, I was dead, meaning I really had an impossible shot and I decided that I would actually play away from the pin and get my angles right that if my ball didn't stop down the slope, which I thought it wouldn't, it would simply roll away from the pin and down the green instead of the water. This wasn't the time for my Phil Mickelson heroics, it was time for my strategic brain to kick in. I played a great flop shot on the line I had chosen and in fact it was so good that my ball came to rest only 10 feet from the hole, as good a result as I could have hoped for. Old mate had a better angle and more flat green to work with than mine but he was struggling. He clunked his shot and it motored past the hole to around 20-25 feet past. To my dismay under the circumstances he made the par saving putt and with it I was sure had saved his day, week and chances for 2016 of being on tour. I think had he made bogey there the par 5 18th with out of bounds both sides off the tee and water in front of the green would have looked every bit as daunting as it sounds.
My putting this week had been amazing, I hadn't made everything but I had felt like I was going to. Today I had putted well without much dropping but had made a host of green par putts when needed, all in the middle! I made another one here on 17 and strode to the 18th with my buddy at -10.
Vomit vomit vomit, it was everywhere this time. I think my whole group vomited in this moment. Not that we had all hit poor shots, in fact three of us had ripped it up the middle. It was old mate and his roller coaster closing holes filled with emotions and untold mental games going on inside his head, that had hit another hook sending his ball sailing out of bounds!! So let me paint this picture for you. He stood on this tee at -10, and we thought the number might be -7 at the end of the day, bearing in mind that if you shoot over par to finish on that number the count back usually won't go in your favour. Here he is now putting another ball down on the tee, changing from his driver to his 3 wood and hitting his 3 shot with a penalty shot down the hole. We all felt his pain, nerves and tension as he addressed the ball again. Thankfully he found the middle of the fairway but with the change of club was a long way from home. He hit the same club for his second but the nasty left shot he had developed under the incredible pressure of a final day at q school appeared again and hit ball sailed left and into a tree. He was now in the rough coming over the water for his 5th shot to this par 5 and needing to make 7 at worst. Talk about pressure. I was glad to be watching and not doing it myself, I had ripped my drive, hit a perfect 5 iron lay up and had a small 75m approach across the water for my third......I was still nervous though, although not for me but for this guy!!
I could barely watch as he addressed the ball in the rough with the shot over water to the green I front of him. Not only was the water in front but it ran the entire way along the right side of the green, just 4-5m from where the pin was cut today. Any error here and his 4 days of work and an opportunity to play at finals and maybe on tour in 2016 were going to be drowned along with his Titleist golf ball! It was a nervous looking stabby swing into the rough but to my relief and I'm sure his, the ball landed on the green near the flag but because he was coming from the rough it didn't stop too quickly, but he was on and in that moment I'm sure his heart rate may have started to decline from the severely elevated position it had been at. I wedged my ball nicely on to about 10 feet and knew that I was done, two putts at worst and a -10 total was good enough. Old mate however sent his heart back into over drive when his putt for 6 ran by leaving 3 and a half feet to go for the 7 that we thought he had to make to be definitely safe. All I can say is that despite my solid putting all week I was glad that I had two putted, was finished and wasn't having to make this putt. Somehow he rolled it in the middle and I'm sure nearly fainted with low blood pressure as he picked his ball from the hole. In my opinion we had all done enough, two guys at -8, me at -10 and the fourth player, Kats, my hole in one guy from yesterday cruising at -11.
To my relief my mate Matt had gotten his wish too, he shot 5 under today to finish at -10 as well and was going to be making his first trip to Antartica for finals!!! Not really Antarctica, but darn freezing!!
So there you have it, taking you through the emotions, nerves, pressure and sheer torture that the final day of a q school brings. I had played well and putted well all week, so pleasing given the work I'm doing on it. I progressed to finals which was the goal for the week. I know this time last week I wasn't sure if I would even be playing so to get this result is awesome.
For me it's time for home now for a couple of weeks, give my body a rest and try and be ready for the final push of the year, the Aussie Masters and Aussie Open followed by Japan Finals. It's going to be a massive 3 and a half weeks and one where I would continue to love your support both of me but also of Rach as it has been a strong and long finish of the year for her too. She is amazing but I'm sure she can't wait for the year to be over.....mind you a trophy in the lounge room will help ease the pain a little.
Hope you have enjoyed getting inside the ropes and mind a little at a q school, it's a beast, an ugly beast and I hope after finals I never have to do one again!