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Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy rocking world

By Peter Hutcheon

Number 10 in the world has a lovely ring to it for Graeme McDowell — but that’s far from being the height of his ambition.

After his triumph at the Andalucia Masters on Sunday, Northern Ireland now incredibly boasts two men in the top 10 for the first time, with Rory McIlroy one place ahead at nine.

The Holywood man has long been tipped as a future world number one but the red-hot McDowell could now very well beat him to it.

With Tiger Woods now deposed as the world’s best player and Lee Westwood taking over at the top without swinging a club last week, expect the title to change hands on a regular basis over the next couple of years.

US Open champion McDowell is adamant that he won’t be a one-hit wonder when it comes to the majors and if he can manage to add to the title he won at Pebble Beach in June next year, he’ll be well on his way to be crowned the world’s best player.

McDowell’s triumph in California was dismissed by some in America as a one-off — but they found out all about his guts and desire to win as he throttled Hunter Mahan to bring back the Ryder Cup to Europe at Celtic Manor last month.

Just weeks later he was raising aloft yet another trophy — his third of the season, having triumphed at the Wales Open with blistering rounds of 64 and 63 to blow away the field in June.

No disrespect to Ballyclare’s Gareth Maybin but when the two Ulstermen stepped onto the first tee in the last pairing for Sunday’s final round at Valderrama, there was only ever going to be one winner.

McDowell has come a long way from the player who woke up in a cold sweat after posting an opening 66 to lead the Open at Hoylake four years ago — only to sink without trace the next day.

He has won seven times now on the European Tour and he knows how to get the job done — whatever the circumstances.

McDowell is not as naturally gifted as McIlroy — but then few are — yet he squeezes every ounce out of what talent he has and makes up for the rest through sheer hard work and determination.

There is no obvious weakness to his game — he’s straight from the tee, precise with his irons and is a consistently solid on and around the green.

He has developed a knack for getting the job done when it counts, which is something that McIlroy, for all his gifts, has yet to crack.

Once he does, both he and his Ryder Cup partner can start to seriously threaten the number one spot.

Of the current top ten only really Westwood and Martin Kaymer are in the ascendant.

Phil Mickelson had umpteen chances to overtake Woods this year, but couldn’t see the job through.

Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker are also both the wrong side of 40, while Paul Casey hasn’t won in well over a year now and Luke Donald, at eight, has probably risen as high as he is going to.

McDowell has serious designs on the Harry Vardon Trophy for winning the Race to Dubai money list. Sunday’s win has taken him to within half a million euros or so of leader Kaymer with a US$7m pot to play for this week in China.

McIlroy’s emergence on the world stage a couple of years ago threatened to overshadow McDowell.

But instead the Portrush man has responded magnificently to the challenge thrown down by his younger countryman and the results so far have been nothing short of spectacular.

Northern Ireland has long punched above its weight in golf but with two of the game’s superstars hailing from here, these are heady days indeed.

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