Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Graeme McDowell on form for open charge

Up and down run makes McDowell a major threat to his rivals at Muirfield

Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland celebrates victory on the 18th green during the final round of the Alstom Open de France at Le Golf National on July 7, 2013 in Paris, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

It looks crazy on paper but works out very nicely on grass! With three wins and five missed cuts in his last eight tournaments, Graeme McDowell's mazy journey through the past three months will leave many sports fans perplexed.

For his colleagues in professional golf, however, McDowell's dizzying recent run establishes him as one of their most dangerous rivals going into next week's Open Championship.

Few could relish the prospect of going head-to-head down the stretch with this fearsome Portrush man on Sunday week at Muirfield.

Or at the climax to any event on a golf course set up as tough as the 'Albatros', where McDowell won the French Open on Sunday, one of Europe's most prestigious championships, by four strokes.

European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley explains it best.

"Once again, Graeme showed that his strongest asset is his competitive nature ... he's at his most dangerous when he gets himself into contention at any event," he said.

"He's had so many positive experiences like this in recent years, Graeme has built-up a big reservoir of self-belief. It's a great bonus for any golfer to know that when the pressure comes on, he can rely on himself to take it to another level."

McDowell flourishes under fire, especially at Celtic Manor in 2010 when he clinched Ryder Cup victory for Europe, one of the high points of a year in which he also won the US Open at Pebble Beach.

Sunday's win was 33-year-old's ninth on the European Tour and 12th in all as a professional, an impressive resume which includes his famous defeat of tournament host Tiger Woods in a fascinating head-to-head at the 2010 Chevron World Challenge.

Yet if the adrenaline's not pumping, McDowell can "find it hard to get going," explains McGinley: "It's not a bad thing. In fact, having a lot of highs and lows can be a big positive in our sport.

"Personally, I'd prefer it much better to being Mr Consistency. For example, two missed cuts followed by a win can be hugely more advantageous in terms of world ranking points, orders of merit and confidence than three successive top-10's."

Sunday's win propelled McDowell to sixth in the world, his highest ranking since reaching a career-high fourth early in 2011.

It's not unheard of for golfers to follow mix missed cuts with victories.

McDowell offers cogent reasons for each of his five missed cuts since April's US Masters.

He played "a little too much golf leading up to Augusta" and "was fatigued come Thursday" of Masters week. Then "I was under-golfed going into the US Open," a situation exacerbated by appalling weather which limited pre-tournament play-time at Merion.

As for the other three lost weekends, McDowell's history at Sawgrass, venue for The Players, and Wentworth, home of the BMW PGA, is speckled, while he'd played just four competitive rounds in five weeks before the Irish Open.

Still, each missed cut felt like a whiplash, spurring him into five days of intense remedial work before Paris.

McDowell now turns his full attention to Muirfield, which he visits for the first time tomorrow. After this recce, he'll head home for a bit of links fine-tuning at Portrush and Royal Co Down before returning to Scotland on Monday.

Because he's such an affable, well-balanced individual off the golf course, it's easy to overlook how fiercely competitive McDowell is on it.

Life's sweet right now. McDowell's mum Marion and dad Kenny were at Le France National, while the Ulsterman took the opportunity walking up the 17th fairway on Sunday to send love and best wishes to his fiancée Kristin Stape and her daughter.

His charitable foundation has raised $1m towards a new cardiac care wing at Crumlin Children's Hospital in Dublin, while in April.

Forever forthright, he's sometimes painfully candid. For example, the organisers of this week's Scottish Open and host club Castle Stuart were stung by his recent blunt assessment of the venue.

Few are harder on themselves or less tolerant of their own shortcomings than McDowell, with close friend and caddie Ken Comboy the perfect foil in explosive situations.

Yet far fewer are as focussed or self-assured as McDowell when he makes it to Sunday afternoon and the bullets fly.