Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 April 2014

Graeme McDowell feeling good ahead of US Open

It is not often the bookmakers get something wrong, but when it comes to the odds of a European winner of this week's US Open, they might well be making an expensive mistake.

World number two Rory McIlroy is given the best chance of victory at Merion, which is debatable enough considering his form this year since his multi-million switch to new equipment.

But an even more questionable assessment sees Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose all rated bigger contenders by BetVictor than former champion Graeme McDowell.

That is not to say that McDowell's Ryder Cup team-mates are incapable of breaking their Major duck in Pennsylvania, but it is a curious reflection of McDowell's form in the event itself and 2013 in general.

While Garcia, Donald, Westwood and Rose have recorded several top-10 finishes this season, none of them has managed a victory, with Garcia famously blowing the Players Championship at Sawgrass and Westwood squandering a two-shot lead in the final round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

In contrast, McDowell won the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head and followed it up a few weeks later with victory in the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria, not forgetting his excellent track record in the US Open itself.

The Ulsterman has not missed a cut in seven appearances in the year's second major and from 2009 his record reads 18th, first, 14th, second, so it is no wonder the 33-year-old approaches Merion more worried about tempering expectations than anything else.

"You could say I'm in the form of my life going into an event in which certainly my record kind of speaks for itself," McDowell said. "I feel like I'm a substantially better player than I was three years ago (when he won at Pebble Beach, pictured)

"I feel like I've learned a lot from this process that I've gone through the last two and a half years, winning the US Open, getting comfortable with deserving that US Open, getting comfortable with the player I was trying to become, acclimatising myself to being in the top 10, 20, 30 in the world, a new status in the game.

"But talking about what I've learned and what's making me better as a player, certainly expectation levels are dangerous, no doubt about it. You can never get ahead of yourself in this game.

"The second that you think you've got it nailed it kicks you hard. Any time you think you deserve something, or you think you're owed something, it typically doesn't give it to you. I'll be making sure I'm in check over the summer.

"I guess I'm starting to realise that and I've learned to have no more major expectations and I think that's why I'm feeling more comfortable on the golf course."

Merion is set to play short by modern standards at just 6,996 yards; the last major course that was under 7,000 yards was Shinnecock Hills for the 2004 US Open and Merion will be the shortest since Southern Hills, which was 6,973 in 2001.

However, McDowell has already experienced the course first hand and knows overall length will not tell the whole story.

"It opens with a little bit of length in the first four or five holes, then it gets real short for seven or eight holes and then all of a sudden on the 14th they have whipped the tee back onto the putting green, it's now brutal," McDowell added.

"But I am quite good at acknowledging the fact that par is a great score at the US Open. When that becomes a good score, I am a decent scrambler, I drive it straight, my iron play is solid and I'm a good putter."