I said in my column last month that 2016 had been the best season special. One of the highlights was on the 16th when I took the risk of my career, and it certainly was. Competing in my first Masters from the middle of trees through a very small gap to go for the green and finishing 17th, which I’m told is the best finish by a Spanish and I managed to make it for a par. Then I made a birdie on 17 and debutant in the tournament. Then being part of golf’s historic neither Stephen Gallacher or Lee Westwood birdied the last so I won! I return to the Olympics alongside my good friend Sergio Garcia and was so excited. It gave me a huge amount of confidence which set up coming fifth, and of course making my debut in the Ryder cup (he was the only undefeated European in the team, Ed). Experiences like those are why I became a professional golfer, but despite it being a wonderful season that helped me to my highest ever finish on the Race to Dubai (eighth place) the one thing missing was a win.
The press made a lot about the fact that I haven’t missed a cut on the European Tour for over a year and I came so close to winning on several occasions, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. So when I was leading from the first to the third round of my final event of 2016 – the UBS Hong Kong Open – I thought that win was finally going to come.
I played really well and shot 64-65-70 over the first three days and then played a decent final round, shooting 69 and making a couple of good birdies on the last few holes but was beaten by one stroke by Sam Brazel. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t hard to take but that’s golf for you, the margins are really small at the top of the game and it’s entirely possible to play fantastic golf and still not win.
People keep telling me that it won’t be long until my performances are converted into victories and so I’m just going to keep doing what I do, which is working hard, enjoying the experience and staying calm!
There couldn’t be a better place for me to go after my third European Tour title than the OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic. It’s an event I have very fond memories of after winning my biggest title so far there in 2012. It was a great week for me. I began really well to lead with a 63 on the first day, which was an ideal start, and then stayed in among the leaders all week and was able to get it over the line on the Sunday.
It’s one of the biggest events on the European Tour and to have my idols, Seve Ballesteros and José Maria) Olazàbal, having won there with my friends Miguel Angel Jiménez and Alvaro Quiros winning it in the previous years, just ahead of me, made it really special. It was something that I was dreaming about. That last round was very what was to be the best year of my career at that point and catapulted me into the World Ranking, as well as giving me hopes of making the Ryder Cup team.
Dubai Desert Classic
I played really well at the Desert Classic last year as well and finished in second place on 18-under-par, the same score I shot when I won it, but unfortunately for me Danny Willett was playing unbelievable golf and he beat me by one stroke. Danny went on to win the Masters not long after that so I don’t think I can feel too bad!
I’ve really enjoyed relaxing and spending time with family over the Christmas break but I’m looking forward to getting back out there. The Majlis at Emirates Golf Club (host venue of the Dubai Desert Classic) is a course I like a lot so it’s a great place for me to play so early in the season. The fact that I now live in Dubai and have many
friends there means that it will be even more special this year and I would love to have a repeat of my 2012 win there!
It’s going to be an exciting season on the European Tour with the new Rolex Series meaning we’ve got more big-money events on the Race to Dubai schedule. The Race to Dubai has also got a new logo which I was involved in launching along with Rory and Henrik. It’s great that it is now using the official Dubai logo and great recognition from the Dubai Government of the success the Race to Dubai has had in raising the profile of the emirate around the world.
Hopefully, the new branding will help with that even more. I’m enjoying playing my part in promoting the UAE, too, and it’s something I’m looking forward to doing more of in the future.