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US Open: Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell eye more glory

By Karl MacGinty

Graeme McDowell's only cause of concern is inevitably a source of satisfaction for Rory McIlroy as both Ulster players visited next week's US Open venue to sample the delights of the extensively revamped No 2 Course at Pinehurst.

McIlroy travelled to the Sand Hills of North Carolina on Monday and Tuesday and was delighted to find plenty of use for the strongest weapon in his arsenal, that crimson Covert driver.

"I'd never seen Pinehurst before, so it's my first time around the course," said a beaming McIlroy, named Race to Dubai European Tour golfer of the month following victory in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

"I loved what I saw, I really did. I love what they've done with the native areas by taking the deep rough away. It's going to be different to what we usually expect at the US Open," he added.

"I think some guys are going to be surprised by the look of the course compared to 1999 and 2005, but for me it's new and I don't know any different. So I really liked it out there."

So did G-Mac on his visit last week. Thanks to Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, the course once again corresponds to the vision of its original designer Donald Ross.

The killer rough and narrow fairways which stifled adventure in 2005 have been replaced by wide fairways and expansive waste areas, making Pinehurst appeal more to the eye of McDowell, whose 2010 victory came at another iconic American venue, Pebble Beach.

McDowell looks forward to the challenge of consistently finding the correct spots from which to play approach shots into greens shaped like upturned saucers and surrounded by shaved run-offs.

He enjoyed the run his ball got on hard, fast fairways, with one reservation: "I'm just worried that with no rough, this year's Open is going to give the bombers a little too much space.

"That's my only concern," he added.

Judging by video clips from Pinehurst, McIlroy's left knee ligament sprain which surfaced during last Thursday's first round at Memorial still was apparent on Tuesday.

The cameras rolled as the 25-year-old took on the 17-foot putt at 18 which the late Payne Stewart famously sank for par and a one-stroke victory over Phil Mickelson at the '99 US Open.

After McIlroy – the 2011 US Open champion at Congressional – missed this exceedingly difficult putt, it was concerning to note a slight limp as he walked after his ball and how he instinctively reached for that left knee after a constrained attempt to imitate Stewart's elaborate celebration.

A weekend rest should be invaluable to McIlroy, who recently split from tennis star fiancee Caroline Wozniacki.

McDowell gets his game face back on at the FedEx St Jude in Memphis today after three weeks at home with wife Kristin as they look forward to the birth of their first child in August.

McDowell missed the cut last year, but shot 63 on the Sunday to claim a share of seventh on his St Jude debut in 2009.

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