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Irish Open: Graeme McDowell grabs centre stage

By Peter Hutcheon

Graeme McDowell believes he can still win this year's Dubai Duty Free Irish Open... even though he needed a birdie at the last to make the cut.

The Portrush man hit a patchy four over par 75, leaving him on five over for the tournament, eight shots behind the leaders.

At Royal County Down over two days with the wind gusting and the rain lashing down, G-Mac believes it is a gap that can be closed.

Asked directly if there was any chance he could pick up the trophy tomorrow, the 2010 US Open champion stated: "I'll need a bit of fortune with the weather, and I'll need conditions in the morning to go out and go low and for the wind to get up for the leaders in the afternoon, but it is absolutely winnable.

"I'll need to play well and I'll need a little help, but anything is possible from here.

"It's very scorable and you can make some birdies and you really can make an impact on this leaderboard."

McDowell, who scored 72 in round one, was going along reasonably steadily until four bogeys in five holes on the back nine left him needing a birdie at the par five 18th to be sure of his place in the field at the weekend.

He did not disappoint the huge crowd surrounding the green, playing the last superbly and almost earning an eagle before tapping in for his four.

McDowell, wearing short sleeves despite the wind and rain battering down, was delighted.

"It was very important for me to be here at the weekend," he said.

"Not just because it is the Irish Open and I want to be here but also because my game's coming around and I want to keep testing it.

"I want to keep hitting shots. I need a card in my pocket for another two rounds, so it was really important to birdie the last and to play this weekend."

The 35-year-old, who will be one of the earlier starters today, added: "I'd have been really disappointed to be going home because I felt like I hit a lot of good shots from the last couple of days and I felt it slipping away from me on the back nine with some really clumsy putting.

"It's been a little bit like that in the last couple of weeks. Two rounds this weekend will be important for me."

McDowell has talked all week about the difficulty of the course.

As always, after another 18 holes, his observations were interesting, especially when asked if the Royal County Down was set up too tough, given some of the awful scoring in the opening two days.

"No," was his emphatic answer.

"The course is what it is. It's a difficult golf course. These are very unusual conditions.

"There has been a strong, persistent wind and it's been very cold and very wet with tough squalls coming through.

"If you play any golf course in these types of conditions it will be very difficult. I wouldn't criticise the course set up. I really wouldn't. I think it is a tough course played in tough conditions.

"When those squalls are running through it is brutal but it is fun because the crowds are fantastic and you know the response that we are getting walking on to the greens is great."

McDowell is a hugely popular figure in Northern Ireland, but happens to be around at the same time as Rory McIlroy, the world number one and four time major winner, so there is always going to be more focus on the Holywood native when both are playing in the same tournament.

If Rory is Lionel Messi, G-Mac is Neymar.

On McIlroy not making it to the weekend, McDowell said: "I feel for him on a lot of levels.

"He's not exactly having a rough year though so I'm not going to feel too bad for him!

"To have done what he's done this week and build this tournament up to the type of level that it's at and attract the best players to come to Ireland and Northern Ireland, it's such a big responsibility.

"I'm sure no-one will be more disappointed than him but he's the number one player in the world and he's great for Irish and Northern Irish golf."

McDowell's not too shabby himself. And now he would love to have a real crack at winning his first Irish Open.

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