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'Focused' McDowell aiming high


Graeme McDowell made a good start in the defence of his title

Graeme McDowell made a good start in the defence of his title

Graeme McDowell made a good start in the defence of his title

Graeme McDowell outlined a renewed commitment to the game and some ambitious career targets after making a n ideal start to the defence of his Volvo World Match Play Championship title.

McDowell, who fought back from three down to beat Jordan Spieth in the opening singles match in Europe's Ryder Cup victory at Gleneagles last month, was again in the first match out on Wednesday but was never in trouble against the in-form Alexander Levy, who won the rain-shortened Portugal Masters on Sunday.

Four birdies in the first six holes helped McDowell into a comfortable lead and although Levy kept his hopes alive with a birdie to win the 13th, McDowell crucially matched another birdie from his French opponent on the 15th before completing a 3&2 victory on the next.

McDowell successfully defended the French Open earlier this season and won all three of his matches at Gleneagles, but admitted he had not been fully focused in recent times after getting married last year and becoming a father for the first time in August.

"I think you're seeing a turnaround in my commitment level to the game," said the 35-year-old, who won the US Open in 2010.

"For two years I haven't been as focused, but for all the right reasons. Getting married and having a baby are special times in the life of anyone.

"But I genuinely believe I can work harder than I have been and I think I've turned a corner in that regard. I realise that I want to win more majors and more tournaments around the world and I'm more focused now than I have been in a long time.

"Regardless of what happens this week, I am using the end of this year as a springboard for next year and I'm more strongly motivated than I've ever been. I really feel I'm in the prime of my career and ready to step up to the next level and give the next five to eight years 110 per cent of my concentration."

McDowell admits he has been guilty of getting too down on himself on the course, especially when faced with competing against players who hit the ball much further than him.

The Northern Irishman believes his iron play would have had to be "superhuman" to compete with Rory McIlroy in the US PGA Championship at Valhalla, which measured 7,458 yards.

"Moments like that I've got to step back and think this might not be my week, but there will be other weeks," he added. "I have different tools to get around golf courses."

That extends to courses such as Augusta National, the permanent venue for the Masters where McDowell has missed the cut five times in seven appearances.

" Why do I think I can't play there? It's old-school thinking isn't it? I've been too guilty of it," added McDowell.

"That's why you pay fortunes to sports psychologists to get it out of your head. Zach Johnson is a short hitter and he won there didn't he?"

McDowell's Ryder Cup partner Victor Dubuisson also enjoyed a 3&2 win over Spain's Pablo Larrazabal at The London Club but there were defeats for Jamie Donaldson and Stephen Gallacher, while Henrik Stenson had to settle for a half in his match with George Coetzee.

Donaldson, who claimed the winning point at Gleneagles, lost 2&1 to 2006 champion Paul Casey - who was four under par for the first six holes - while Gallacher lost 3&2 to Ireland's Shane Lowry, who carded seven birdies.

" I feel great with that," said Casey, who won the KLM Open last month and is looking to get back into the world's top 50.

"Jamie's probably fatigued coming off the back of all the golf he's played recently but his performance at the Ryder Cup illustrates how good a golfer he is. I knew it was going to be tricky out there and I played some wonderful stuff."

US Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed, who was unbeaten on his debut, also lost 2&1 to Sweden's Jonas Blixt while 2013 runner-up Thongchai Jaidee defeated Italy's Francesco Molinari by two holes and Holland's Joost Luiten edged out Finland's Mikko Ilonen on the 18th.

" It was one of those days where both of us played pretty solid but at the end of the day I didn't really make anything," Reed said. " I missed a short one on six and it seemed like that was the story of the day, just missing putts left and right."

Reed can still qualify for Saturday's quarter-finals with further group matches to come against Casey and Donaldson, with the top two in each of the four groups advancing to the last eight.