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The Open 2015: Graeme McDowell has got his swagger back in time for St Andrews

By Liam Kelly

Graeme McDowell has shone the spotlight on the deceptive banality of the first hole on the Old Course.

It looks easy and should be easy, but that first tee shot can still get the nerves jangling in an Open at St Andrews.

McDowell has played in 11 Open Championships since 2004, including two at St Andrews, and complacency is not an option.

"The first tee shot at St Andrews, for being probably the easiest tee shot in Major history, it's still such an historic shot," said the Ulsterman.

"You just feel 'I'm standing there in the shadow of the R&A clubhouse, and all it represents'.

"It does give you the special feeling and there's not many places will do that. Obviously Augusta, and the 18th tee at Pebble (Beach) are in that category.

"There's half a dozen little shots in the world that you kind of feel 'this is a bit special, this is what it's all about, this is historic and traditional'."

Alongside him, McDowell will have long-serving caddie Ken Conboy.

Conboy joined McDowell in 2006 and has been on the bag for eight of the Portrush native's 10 Tour wins, including that historic US Open victory at Pebble Beach in 2010.

McDowell thus became the first Irishman to win the US Open in post-War years, and was the first European to claim the American title since Tony Jacklin in 1970.

Five years later, the Northern Irishman and the Englishman are still rolling along in search of further success.

And like all enduring partnerships, periods of stress are an occupational hazard.

This year has tested the patience of both men, but after last week's Scottish Open the McDowell/Conboy team have seen signs of better things to come.

There's nothing quite like a brace of 66s to put some pep in the step, and McDowell's opening scores last Thursday and Friday at Gullane brought out his purposeful swagger after too many days when the shoulders slumped.

Off the course, the caddie's input can also be important.

Following his missed cut at the Alstom Open de France, McDowell and Conboy clarified some technical issues that helped the player do well at the Scottish Open.

"I made good use of my weekend off from missing the cut at the French," explained McDowell. "I came up to Scotland with the family and it was out at St Andrews on the Saturday that Kenny and I worked a few things out as regards technique, and what we need to do about it.

"That was kind of a light switch moment. I hit it really well on Saturday, hit it really well that Sunday. I had a day off back in Portrush with the family on the Monday and everything looked good in the warm-up at Gullane."

Until last week, McDowell's form had not reached the level he expects.

How much had his self-belief suffered?

"It's tough to quantify. We were talking about a cup of confidence that I was spilling away all year," he said. "I put a bit back in last week, but there's plenty of room for more.

"It was good to get out in the business end of things and put my nerves to the test."

The nerves will be tested tomorrow when the goal will be to avoid a disaster and lay the foundations for a decent challenge.

Meanwhile, Louis Oosthuizen and Tiger Woods, the last two winners of the Open at St Andrews, cautioned Rory McIlroy to wait until his ankle injury is healed before a comeback.

That may mean the World No 1 missing the final Major of the season, the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. McIlroy is undergoing treatment for the injury he sustained playing football last week.

Oosthuizen, 2010 champion on the Old Course, and Woods, the 2005 winner, will welcome McIlroy back, but not until he is fully fit.

Oosthuizen had a similar ankle ligament rupture in 2010.

"I came back too soon, so that put me back a few months," he said. "You need to make sure when you're back, you're fit."

Woods has been in touch with McIlroy about the injury.

"This is a championship that means a lot to him, and to miss it is tough to take," said Woods.

"But we all get injured out here and no one is immune to it.

"I hope he comes back healthy and ready to go."

Belfast Telegraph


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