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The Masters: Tiger Woods doesn’t scare me anymore, roars confident Graeme McDowell

By Peter Bills

He admits a few years back he’d have been a bag of nerves, quite unable to cope with the pressures. But that was back then.

Today, Northern Ireland’s champion golfer Graeme McDowell will set out on his quest to land the 2011 Masters title at Augusta National. And he reckons he’s perfectly capable of handling not only the demands of that ambition but the company of Tiger Woods.

McDowell’s career and confidence was transformed by his 2010 US Open triumph. Now, he handles himself publicly with a sense of calm and control worthy of a champion.

So nerves at handling all the pressures that go hand-in-hand with Woods? “It’s fair to say being paired with him would have affected me a lot more a year ago than it does now.

“I feel like I have played with him enough now to where it’s pretty normal. I’ve got to go and play my own game on Thursday and Friday and let him play his game. Once you get used to the whole buzz that surrounds him it’s pretty normal.

“I would have been intimidated a couple of years ago but nowadays it’s reasonably normal. I was expecting to get a draw somewhere along those lines this week.”

So McDowell sets out as fiercely driven to succeed at Augusta as he was in California last June. Ambition? “I’m very keen to have a great week.

“This is one of the very special major championships. They are all special but this is particularly so. Augusta is an amazing place. I have dreamt of putting the green jacket on my back Sunday afternoon and, of course, I am very driven to do the job.

“And the more often I come here, year by year, I feel like my awareness and knowledge of this golf course continues to increase. This week is probably as good as I have ever felt here, really knowing the greens and where I should be hitting it.

“I’m sure it will be a lot of fun playing with Tiger on Thursday and Friday. There is a pretty good buzz regardless who you are playing with on those days. I’m sure it will be busy, I’ve got my folks over this week and I’m excited about it all. The golfing year really begins from here.”

And the morale that comes from landing a major? “I feel like I have got the confidence and belief now.

“I think you understand what major championships are all about as far as pacing yourself physically and mentally and having a little bit left in the tank on the back nine on Sunday.”

The intrinsic difference between McDowell at the start of the 2010 major championship season and its 2011 counterpart is really self belief.

“The biggest thing I discovered about myself last year was that I am good enough. I’ve never really been blessed with the talent of a Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia or someone like that. I’ve always had to work hard at my game. Things always came a little more difficult for me than other guys.

“But 2010 proved to me I am good enough.”

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