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Graeme McDowell is a major player again

By Peter Hutcheon

Graeme McDowell might just be the most under-rated sportsman in the UK right now.

The Ulsterman claimed his 11th win in 11 years as a professional golfer with Sunday's victory over Thongchai Jaidee at the Volvo World Matchplay final at Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria.

It took him past 15 million euros in career prize-money, lifted him to seventh in the world rankings as well as top of the Race to Dubai rankings.

And yet, he's not even the best golfer in Northern Ireland.

Such is life, and McDowell is more than happy just to let his game do the talking and allow Rory McIlroy to bask in the glare of the attention of the world's media.

Even before his matchplay win – which laid to rest the ghost of his losing final appearance 12 months ago when he came second best to Nicolas Colsaerts – he had predicted a return to his very best form this summer.

So far he has been as good as his word, following up his win at the RBC Heritage in April with the Matchplay crown.

Of course, what he was actually alluding to was the three remaining Majors that lie ahead this season and his desire to add to the US Open crown he won at Pebble Beach in 2010.

Winning yet another magnificent Major remains the long-term goal as he doesn't want to go down in history as a one-hit wonder even if that victory three years ago lifts him above Major-less contemporaries like Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and a host of others.

He badly wants to add that second Major and knows he blew two great opportunities last year when he was out in the final group on Sunday in both the US Open and The Open.

McDowell is the dictionary definition of a man who makes the very most of his talents. He doesn't have prodigious distance from the tee or a flashy short game. His is a simple game based largely on staying out of trouble and that, at times, can be brutally effective.

It certainly was in Bulgaria last week as he looked every inch the No.1 seed in coming through to the final without ever going behind in any of his matches.

And even when Jaidee did rake in a couple of long putts to open up an early two-hole lead in the final, McDowell stuck to his guns and gradually hitting fairway after fairway told on his opponent who began to miss.

Keeping it simple has been McDowell's philosophy for most of his career. He freely admits trying to crack America after starting his career with two quick wins on the European Tour in 2002 was a mistake.

The one major change he has made since then was to leave Chubby Chandler's camp and set up with Dublin-based Horizon and he hasn't looked back since.

While McIlroy dithers over whether to make another management switch and still hasn't settled on how much to play in Europe or the US, McDowell just quietly gets on with the business at hand and is equally at home either side of the Atlantic these days.

When the bookies list the favourites for next month's US Open at Merrion, McDowell is happy not to be among them. But he's certainly worth at least an each-way punt, especially when he's talking up his own chances as he is at the moment.

McDowell (pictured) talks of the 2011 comedown as he failed to kick on from the twin highs of his US Open win and his star turn in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor.

He's well and truly over that hump now and, as the field in Bulgaria found to their cost last week, won't be intimidated on the course by anyone.

With no Ryder Cup to worry about this year, the rest of the season will be all about the Majors for McDowell. But for an uncharacteristic snap hook in the closing stages at Royal Lytham and St Annes a year ago he might very well have already had his second safely tucked away.

But, to be fair, he was going for broke at the time and was as bemused as everyone else as Adam Scott crumbled over the final four holes to hand victory to Ernie Els.

Muirfield this summer will be something of an unknown for McDowell as the Championship hasn't been staged there since the year he turned pro.

But if he's playing anything like he has of late – two wins in his last three starts – he'll certainly fancy his chances of being at the sharp end again this July.

It promises to be a fascinating summer for the man from Portrush and who knows – he might even end up claiming the coveted spot as the best player in Northern Ireland after all.

Belfast Telegraph


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