'Anything can happen': Graeme McDowell looks to The Open leaders after sneaking inside the cut at Royal Portrush
Graeme McDowell believes anything is possible on a big weekend for Northern Ireland at The Open Championship. Given Thursday and Friday's events at Royal Portrush, who could argue?
While Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy both missed the cut in somewhat differing but equally heart-wrenching circumstances, McDowell mastered his own mind and the Dunluce Links' increasingly-notorious closing stretch to make the cut on the mark.
Having suffered such heartache on Thursday with a triple bogey seven on 18, it was always going to require an improved round to make the weekend.
At two under, level for the week, through 12, things were looking good for the hometown man but a bogey at 14 and he could afford no more errors.
Approaching a run that includes two of the day's hardest four holes, it required focus, courage and a lot of good golf.
He certainly delivered all three, hitting each of the final four greens to give himself a relatively stress-free path to Saturday and Sunday.
"This one obviously means a lot, to play the weekend here," he sighed in relief, trying to describe just what the next two days mean as golf's oldest tournament is played on the north coast.
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"It's symbolic; it's a shift. It's a move on. It's a step from our past. It shows how many hurdles we've overcome, how far we've come as an island, really.
"This is not just about Northern Ireland. This is about the whole of Ireland. Because we're very proud of our golf. And golf has always united this country.
"This event and the people that have come out to support this event, it means a lot to this whole island economically and really just from a showcasing of this amazing place."
While Cork's Amateur Champion James Sugrue joined McIlroy in the agonising miss by a shot, the tiny margins were shown up when, just a single shot better, McDowell went on to talk about looking right up the leaderboard, where Shane Lowry and JB Holmes are nine shots ahead.
"Anything can happen," he said. "I mean, it looks like a tough forecast on Sunday and a great forecast tomorrow. So go out and shoot a low one in the morning, you never know.
"Certainly a mid-60, certainly very capable of shooting that. I need to drive it better than I drove it today. Itruggled with the driver but my iron play was certainly good enough and I felt better on the greens. So I think there's a low one available."
Looking to the leaders is not as fanciful as you might think. In last year's Open Justin Rose sneaked into the weekend on the mark, before carding a seven under 64 on Saturday and ending up second to Francesco Molinari, only two behind.
"I'm proud of myself to reset and get the attitude right after (Thursday)," continued McDowell, again referencing his 18th hole nightmare.
"It left a real sting. I couldn't face the range and I just went home and watched a little bit of the coverage and tried to reset.
"You can go out tomorrow and free up a little bit. Not that I've been playing super tight but I could be very loose on Saturday. I can go out there and certainly got nothing to lose."
McIlroy, of course, missed out despite equalling the lowest round scored on the Dunluce Links since its course layout was changed a few years ago.
But Clarke will be absent this weekend after a triple bogey seven on the last.
"I felt what he's feeling yesterday but he's feeling that times ten today because he didn't have a chance to go and try and make up for that. Gutted for him," said McDowell.
"I know how much this place means to him. He's been probably the most pivotal of the three of us, Rory, myself, and him, just because he was the first guy to win a Claret Jug. He's made his home here. He's spent more time here in the last 20 years than any of us put together."
Offaly's Lowry is in pole position to make it a special weekend for Irish golf after carding two four under par 67s.
"When he's under the gun he knows what to do, and he's not scared," said McDowell. "And I certainly wouldn't put it past him to put his name on that trophy. I'd be very proud of him."
It's all set up for a big weekend at Royal Portrush, and the man from wee Rathmore Golf Club down the road will be right in the thick of it.
Belfast Telegraph Digital