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Graeme McDowell looks fresh ahead of US Open bid

By Karl MacGinty

Neither Graeme McDowell nor Phil Mickelson set Southwind on fire during a storm-ravaged week at the FedEx St Jude Classic, but the Portrush ace appeared to be in the stronger position of these two Major champions in the countdown to this week's US Open at Pinehurst.

McDowell is certainly not in the rip-roaring form which preceded his 2010 US Open win at Pebble Beach, when he romped away with the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor less than a fortnight before his date with Major destiny on the Pacific Ocean shore.

Yet even though two even-par rounds of 70 left the Ulsterman in a share of 24th yesterday on three-under, a distant seven behind FedEx St Jude winner Ben Crane, his confidence and resolve were undiminished in Memphis.

After five top 10s in seven events up to April's Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, McDowell missed the cut at Augusta, finished 27th in his defence of the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head and came home 62nd at Sawgrass.

Yet, after three weeks at home in Orlando with his wife Kristin, who is expecting their first child in August, a refreshed McDowell knocked some rough edges off his long game and putted nicely enough in Memphis to have confidence in his ability to contend at Pinehurst.

The determining factor for McDowell this week, one suspects, will be the weather.

With rain threatened from Tuesday to Friday, it'll be the Portrush man's fervent wish that Pinehurst's fiery fairways won't be softened unduly, making the them play longer and into the hands of Rory McIlroy and other boomers.

If ever a US Open venue looked tailor-made for Mickelson, it's the majestic No 2 course at Pinehurst.

Mickelson's swashbuckling nature underpins his heartbreaking record of six runner-up finishes and no victories at his national championship, his hopes usually vanishing in the deep rough which lines the fairways and besieges the greens at the US Open.

This year, however, the adventurous have a decent risk-reward option off the tee, while Mickelson's famous short game should come into its own at Pinehurst.

Yet if Mickelson is to fulfil the wish of so many of his fellow Americans and collect the US Open trophy and seal a career Grand Slam on the eve of his 44th birthday next Monday, he needed to find momentum and his putting touch in Memphis.

Though birdies at 11 and 12 yesterday raised hope of the left-hander hauling himself into contention for a first win since the British Open at Muirfield last July, bogeys at 13 and 14 knocked him back as a closing two-over 72 left him on six-under to finish t-11th.

Crane blitzed the field as he played his first 36 holes in 12-under (63, 65) and could afford to play the last 29 holes without making a birdie with a closing 73 to claim his fifth overall PGA Tour win.

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