Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Irish Open: Graeme McDowell intends to shoot out the lights

In the swing: Graeme McDowell gets in some practice yesterday

All week, Rory McIlroy has been turning heads as much in the car park as on the golf course — boys of all ages (up to 50 and over) have been posing for pictures alongside the sleek, black 198 mph, Audi R8 V10 McIlroy piloted from Co Down to Killarney for this week's ‘3' Irish Open.

When it comes to driving, however, nothing can be more exciting for the genuine golf enthusiast than the sight of McIlroy powering the ball at full throttle down a fairway — or fearlessly ripping iron shots into even the most challenging pins.

With McIlroy, 21, it's not so much ‘Vorsprung durch Technik' as ‘Lead through Outrageous Talent', which this young man from Holywood is expected to do, not just over the next four days on the rain-softened Killeen Course but for years to come.

For example, it was fascinating yesterday to hear US Open Champion Graeme McDowell express the continuing importance of his gifted young friend, McIlroy, as a motivating factor in his career, even in the wake of the Portrush man's heroics last month at Pebble Beach.

And Shane Lowry, 23, who this week defends the title he won in such sensational fashion at Baltray last summer, also is inspired to work from dawn 'til dusk like a latter-day Padraig Harrington, to join his former Irish amateur teammate in the world's top 10.

With McIlroy candidly admitting that McDowell's victory at the US Open helped concentrate his own focus, it clear that Ireland's leading young players are getting each other revved-up right now like boy racers at the traffic lights.

And, three Majors or not, you can be certain Harrington also relishes the challenge they present on the golf course, not forgetting the recently resurgent Darren Clarke and the host of other Irish winners on Tour who speckle the timesheet in Killarney.

Rarely has an Irish Open been surrounded by such an high-octane atmosphere and with sparks expected to fly from the time the first tee shot is struck this morning, some pretty explosive action is in the offing — McDowell even suggesting yesterday that the Killeen, with little rough and its undulating greens made uncommonly receptive by rain, might be ripe for the first-ever 59 on the European Tour.

Elated after shooting the first 59 of his life during a fun round with his dad Kenny, his uncle Uel and American friend Kevin Vance on the 6,400 yards Valley Course in his native Portrush last Sunday and “probably feeling the best I have felt since I picked up the trophy at Pebble five weeks ago”, McDowell certainly is in the mood to shoot low this weekend.

Though he needed to be as tough and mean as a street-fighter at Pebble Beach, where he was last man standing on Sunday as golfing megastars Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els were ground down and out of contention, McDowell remains an accomplished birdie chaser.

For example, his 61 on Friday at Baltray is the lowest round score ever posted at the Irish Open, while the 64 and 63 McDowell shot at the weekend on his way to victory in June's Welsh Open at Celtic Manor was almost as spectacular as McIlroy's mind-bending weekend's work at Quail Hollow a few weeks earlier.

At that time, McDowell said he was flattered to have his own efforts compared to those of McIlroy, adding cheerfully that he'd be happy to make his way to the top of the golfing world in “Rory's slipstream”.

Now he's a Major Champion, one might expect the Ulsterman's perspective to have changed. Yet McDowell insisted yesterday: “I still feel like Rory's playing a level of golf slightly above me. His game is always going to be a level above mine from the point of view of sheer technique and broad natural talent.

“By ‘slipsteaming him', I mean feeding off Rory's his youthful enthusiasm and love for the game.

“Definitely, I assume a slightly more mature role but we're great friends and I expect we'll continue to motivate and feed-off each other,” he added.

Meanwhile, McIlroy's sharp

competitive instincts also showed when someone suggested McDowell might have pinched his bragging rights in Portrush with last Sunday's 59.

“It wasn't in Portrush, it was at the Valley,” retorted McIlroy, harking back to the record-shattering 61 he on the world-famous Dunluce Links in Portrush at the age of 16 during qualifying for the North of Ireland Amateur Championship.

Amid all this banter, one needed only a cursory glance at today's timesheet to understand what an outstanding recipe for adventure it represents.

For example, McIlroy goes out this morning in a fascinating three-ball with Welsh putting wizard Rhys Davies and Clarke, one of nine ‘survivors' (including Ireland's Paul McGinley and Philip Walton) from 1992, when Nick Faldo swept to his second successive Irish Open victory in Killarney.

Meanwhile, McDowell tees it up with Harrington and steely Damien McGrane from Kells in a truly combustive three-ball this afternoon.

As McDowell suggested yesterday: “The golf course definitely is a bit of a race track, if you'll pardon that expression.

“It's in great shape, especially the greens, and with the forecast for more rain to keep them soft, someone is going to go crazy.

“A 59 could be on the radar.”

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