Graeme McDowell planning last laugh
Balls are always being hopped on the European Tour and we're not talking about Pro V1's.
Swing coach Pete Cowen set one rolling in Graeme McDowell's direction just before last year's World Cup.
McDowell and Rory McIlroy were scheduled to represent Ireland in the season-ending spectacular at Mission Hills. So Cowen primed McDowell's pals to finish any conversation with him during the week of the Dubai World Championship with the sentence: “You guys should do well at the World Cup ... sure anybody could win with Rory!”
Even when McDowell threw a party for the team at Callaway to thank them for all they'd done on his behalf during the year, Pete Harrison, the company's head of operations in Europe, brought his after-dinner speech to an uproarious climax with the McIlroy punchline. Well nobody's teasing McDowell now.
June's phenomenal victory in the US Open at Pebble Beach, just two weeks after his spectacular Welsh Open win at Celtic Manor, has established the Portrush-man as one of Colin Montgomerie's trump cards for next week's Ryder Cup. Especially given McDowell's impressive performance under heavy fire as Europe fell at Valhalla two years ago (he garnered two and a half points from four matches).
Last weekend's performance as he came home in a tie for third at the Austrian Open certainly suggests this rugged Ulsterman is ready to play a senior role in the noisiest and most intimidating arena in golf.
After a four week break to recover from his whirlwind summer, McDowell needed just nine holes on the Diamond Course last Thursday to shake off his ring-rust, eventually finishing in a tie for third.
Yet when Monty pairs up the two Northern Irishmen at Celtic Manor next week, McDowell, though nine years older and more experienced, certainly will not lord it over Ryder Cup rookie McIlroy.
For all the teasing McDowell took before the World Cup, he virtually carried his young friend into second place (behind their Ryder Cup teammates Edoardo and Francesco Molinari of Italy) as McIlroy was mentally and physically spent after pushing winner Lee Westwood all the way in the Race to Dubai.
Those of us — including coach Cowen — who have long considered McDowell capable of winning Major Championships (note the plural), view next week as an opportunity for him to make that step up to the next level at the Ryder Cup.
As McDowell himself recently explained: “I definitely feel different going back this time round. I'd no idea what to expect at Valhalla.
“I was hoping to get a few games and I was lucky enough in getting four.
“I'd played my way onto the 2008 Ryder Cup team but, as a rookie, I didn't have any experience.
“Obviously, in those circumstances, the captain's not relying on you, there's not as much weight on shoulder.
“This time round, if I'm playing well enough, I'll fully expect to get at least four, maybe five games and being an integral part of the team,”