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Why not win the Irish Open?: Graeme McDowell aiming big after promising US Open place

 

Feeling good: Graeme McDowell believes he can challenge the world’s best
Feeling good: Graeme McDowell believes he can challenge the world’s best

By Brian Keogh

Graeme McDowell is gunning for victory in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch as he plots his return to the world's top 50.

The Portrush man (39) continued his resurgence on his return to the scene of his 2010 US Open win when a closing 72 left him tied 16th, 10 shots behind Gary Woodland.

After moving up 12 places to 89th in the world yesterday, his best ranking for two years, McDowell wants to compete with the best again, and he can't wait to get back to the venue where he won the 2000 South of Ireland Championship.

"Ambitions? Why not win the Irish Open at Lahinch? There's a goal!" McDowell said, recalling happy times at the Co Clare links. "I played the South of Ireland several times as an amateur, I won it in 2000, and I like Lahinch. Great town, great people. Good hospitality and the Guinness tastes pretty good, and it's a great golf course."

Looking back on his week at Pebble Beach, he admitted that his trip to California was one of mixed emotions.

"The whole week has been a grind," McDowell said after his round on Sunday. "I didn't have my best stuff today, but I was really proud of the way I hung in there that back nine. I made a big mistake on nine, hit a big double cross, hit the path and made double. From there, it was always going to be a tough day.

"The golf course was just a tad long for me this week. It was cold, not much run on the fairways, and it's no surprise to see guys like Woodland and Koepka up there because you had to move it off the tee this week.

"It helped if you could get it down the fairway and attack these greens with some shorter irons. All in all, good progress. I continued the rebuild and saw good stuff, so I'm very happy."

Shane Lowry has also enjoyed a resurgence in form over the past nine months, and he was pleased to grind out a two-under 69 despite not having his A game and claim a tie for 28th on one-under par.

"It was a nice finish because I didn't play great," Lowry confessed after following a chip-in birdie from the putting surface at the 17th with a two-putt birdie at the 18th. "It's the end of two long weeks, and I don't know how I shot 69, to be honest. I made quite a few par putts and a few good up and downs and finished 2-4, which was really nice."

Woodland answered the major questions when he held off a charging Brooks Koepka.

But the big questions remain unanswered by Rory McIlroy, who slipped quietly into the back seat of an SUV without stopping to talk about the rollercoaster, one-over 72 that left him eight shots behind the winner on five-under par.

The Co Down man might have made the cut in a US Open for the first time since 2015, but he was clearly disappointed that he failed to mount any kind of challenge on Sunday and mixed six birdies with three bogeys and two double bogeys.

Five strokes adrift overnight, he knew he needed to shoot in the mid-60s to trouble the seemingly unflappable Woodland but never got any momentum.

A double-bogey six at the second, where he pulled his tee shot into deep rough, hacked his second shot a few feet into a fairway bunker and went from there to more sand greenside, all but buried him.

Had his eagle chip at the driveable fourth dropped rather than hit the pin and stopped on the lip, he might have found the spark he needed.

But he reversed almost every step forward with a step backwards, dropping a shot at the fifth, then following birdies at the sixth, seventh, 11th and 13th with bogeys at the eighth and 12th and a double-bogey six at the 16th.

A birdie at the last left McIlroy tied for ninth on five-under, giving him an incredible nine top-10 finishes and two wins from just 12 starts this year.

But his winless streak in the Majors has been extended to 18 and he now heads to Scotland to prepare for The Open at Royal Portrush.

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