Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

G-Mac has case of deja vu after retaining French Open

History is beginning to repeat itself as McDowell switches his focus to open bid

Just champion: Graeme McDowell acknowledges the crowd after retaining the French Open crown in Paris at the weekend

There's a sense of deja vu with Graeme McDowell right now. He picks up his first win of the year, quells rising anxiety about his prospects of making the Ryder Cup team next September and takes a massive confidence boost heading into a Major Championship in 10 days time on a golf course he likes.

Hold on, this has happened before. Four years ago, to be precise, McDowell blew away the cobwebs with a stunning victory at the Welsh Open, then teed it up the following Thursday week in the 2010 US Open.

Nobody in golf needs to be told what happened next!

Substitute another future Ryder Cup venue, Le France National, for Celtic Manor and next week's Open at Royal Liverpool for Pebble Beach and you once again have the makings of something very special indeed for G-Mac.

Especially at Hoylake, where eight years ago McDowell gave Portrush folk cause to dream of another famous Open Championship success to go with that achieved by their townsman Fred Daly on the formidable Wirral links in 1947.

Tiger Woods dominated The Open in 2006, using his driver only once as he picked his way brilliantly around a parched, quick-running course. This strategic tour de force was of enormous emotional significance to Woods following the death of his father two months earlier.

Yet McDowell led Tiger and the rest of the Open field a merry dance with a fabulous first round 66 at Hoylake.

Sadly, the Ulsterman lost his putting touch over the next three days on greens baked hard as glass, though fatigue also was a factor.

Incredibly, The Open that year was McDowell's ninth tournament in 11 weeks and his 20th event in 2006.

And that does not include 36 holes of International Final Qualifying at Sunningdale, in which G-Mac needed to sink a 27 foot putt at the last to get into a play-off the following morning for the final four places on the timesheet at Royal Liverpool.

McDowell was on a difficult learning curve back then as he a grim and fruitless early season chase to retain his Tour card in the US saw him return to Europe in May sapped of form, confidence and energy.

By comparison, next week's Open will be McDowell's 13th event of 2014. As he said after successfully defending a tournament title for the first time at The Open de France, "mentally and physically I'm feeling as good now as I ever have at this stage of the season."

Even so, finding the perfect schedule in professional golf is like achieving alchemy.

Prior to Sunday, McDowell feared he'd put his Ryder Cup prospects at risk by not playing enough golf in the opening months of the season. That stress showed on a handful of occasions during his first 54 holes in France.

"I was getting to that point where I was thinking 'have I left this Ryder Cup race a little too late?'

"Yes, I said it wasn't on my mind and it wasn't something that was going to bother me, but, you know, I want to be on that team," he admitted.

After Sunday, McDowell's 12th in the Ryder Cup points standings, with Ian Poulter and Miguel Angel Jimenez between him and Luke Donald, the man currently in the final automatic qualifying spot.

Just 36 world ranking points (equal to a top-three finish at Hoylake) outside of ninth, McDowell's a true contender once again, much to the delight of skipper Paul McGinley, among the first to congratulate McDowell.

Sunday's battle with the elements could hardly have been better-timed for McDowell as he came from eight behind foundering American Kevin Stadler to clinch victory by one with a closing 67.

"Kevin's a great player but I figured he probably wouldn't be used to those conditions, because I'm not used to them anymore," McDowell explained.

"I play a little bit too much on the PGA Tour, so I'm a little soft these days, a bit of a fair-weather golfer.

"Sunday brought me back to my upbringing, to my teens" he added. "Playing golf in bad weather is an art form.

"Some guys are good at it, some guys are not.

"I was starting to think maybe I wasn't a good bad weather player anymore, so it was nice to hit some good shots under pressure in those conditions."

Especially if the going gets rough on the Wirral next week!

How timely too for McDowell's faith to be restored in the art of grinding on tough golf courses.

Unlike 2006, when he played a whopping 54 holes at Hoylake the Sunday and Monday before The Open, McDowell (having made a recent 'recce' trip to Merseyside) will conserve his energy for when it really counts.

Now a battle-hardened Major Champion and three-time Ryder Cup veteran, McDowell's got the moxy and is in the mood to turn feelings of deja vu into reality.

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