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Irish Open 2015: Be afraid, be very afraid, insists Graeme McDowell

By Peter Hutcheon

There could be carnage at Royal County Down's seventh hole this week, according to Graeme McDowell.

At just 144 yards it looks fairly innocuous on the scorecard, but the Ulsterman reckons it's the most difficult par three anywhere in the world.

"If it plays downwind at any time this week, there could be carnage," G-Mac said.

"I have hit a wedge into the bunker there and a nine iron over the back.

"It's one of the toughest shots we'll have to face on a very difficult golf course.

"I think Royal County Down is about four shots harder than Royal Portrush - and obviously I am a huge fan of Royal Portrush.

"We are not going to see this golf course getting torn up like Portrush did a couple of years ago."

McDowell says Royal County Down's notoriously difficult bunkers will play a crucial role in determining who will win.

"The bunkers are going to play a massive part because you can get some really, really bad lies in and around the faces of the bunker.

"You certainly don't want to be in them and you don't want to be near the edges of them either because you can end up in some really bad spots.

"Avoiding bunkers and making sure you put it on the right side of the greens is going to be key."

McDowell has made a habit of popping up with a win when he most needs one and now that his world ranking has slipped to 40th, he could be doing with another.

The Irish Open has not always been a kind event for him - although he was in contention at Fota Island last year and does hold the record for the lowest score at the end, a 61 he shot at Baltray in 2009.

He feels his game has been a little in the doldrums over the past six months, but he's been busy putting that right.

"There's been a lot going on in my life off the golf course with getting married and having a baby," he said.

"I think that since the last Ryder Cup my desire to go out and hit golf balls has not really been where perhaps it might," he said.

"I feel like I have other things on my mind and it took me five or six months to work that out.

"I want to win more major championships and I want to win more golf tournaments.

"I have that great visual of other guys having their kids running out onto the 18th green on a Sunday afternoon and I want to have that too.

"That means I have had to start working hard again and I really feel like my game is turning around. I am genuinely hitting it as well as I have in a couple of years.

"I haven't played well because I haven't really been applying myself and recognising that has been tough."

McDowell sees this week as the perfect way to kick start what he calls the business end of the season.

And he's relishing the prospect of plenty more links golf to come including the US Open at Chambers Bay next month and the Open at St Andrews. "The next three months we're going to be playing an unprecedented amount of links golf and I'm really excited about that," he said.

"I'll play the French Open which I think is more linksy than anything else, I'll play the Scottish Open at Gullane and St Andrews.

"It's a cool run of events. It definitely as much links golf as I have ever played as a professional and it's going to be a lot of fun."

And the former US Open champion believes the Newcastle venue could become the second course in Northern Ireland on the Open rota.

Royal Portrush was added to the rota last year - joining Troon, St Andrews, Muirfield, Turnberry, Sandwich, Lytham, Hoylake, Birkdale and Carnoustie - and will stage the Open in 2019.

And Portrush native McDowell thinks this week's venue could become the 11th course on that list.

"It's great to be back here," McDowell said. "Obviously Portrush a few years ago (staging the Irish Open in front of record crowds in 2012) put Northern Ireland golf on the map from the point of view of what we are capable of and led to things like the Open coming back to Portrush, and I really believe that County Down can be a runner for an Open Championship.

"I'm a little biased towards Portrush of course, but there's something about this golf course that I love. I love the elevation changes. I love the bunkering. It's a much tougher golf course.

"This will be a really, really great showcase I think for golf and Ireland in general."

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