Graeme McDowell warming to his task as the weekend beckons
Northern Irishman shoots a 66 to lie in joint-second spot two shots behind leader Mikko Ilonen
Graeme McDowell in relaxed mood after his birdie putt on the sixth hole yesterday at the Irish Open at Fota Island Resort, Cork. “I feel like I can hang with anybody around this golf course and hopefully do a little competing.” Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
There was a period on tour – apparently – when the old-time golfer would relax with a wee beverage of one kind or another. The modern tour player is, let’s say, a rather different animal. These days, the unwinding tends to involve bench-pressing and barbells, as demonstrated by Graeme McDowell who marked his upward move into contention in the Irish Open by hitting the gym.
The evening gym workout served as a further remedy to conquering the lingering effects of jetlag, although the Northern Irishman looked in the full of his health in shooting a second round 66 for 134, eight-under-par. The rhythmic swing was back, his legs were stronger and the mind was certainly fresher.
It made for a powerful concoction, as he rolled up his sleeves and anticipated a weekend of being in contention in a championship that has thus far proven elusive to him.
Under a clear sky and with large, supportive galleries, McDowell – a week on from the grind that was the US Open at Pinehurst, where every shot was an examination in mental fortitude and skilful execution – seemed at home and at ease as he moved with menace towards the top of the leaderboard.
He’s a player who knows how to close deals, which could possibly cause others in contention to pause and consider the battle that lies ahead. An intimidating presence? Perhaps not.
As McDowell put it, “It would be nice to think of myself as intimidating. I don’t know . . . . (but) this is my type of golf course. I feel like I can hang with anybody around this golf course and hopefully do a little competing.”
For sure, McDowell is the type of player who, once he gets a sniff of a title, is inclined to stay in the fight. So far this year, a win has proven hard to come by. But there is an energy about McDowell this week, almost as if, after the unrelenting demands of Pinehurst, he has found a release.
“It’s fun to be out there. It’s fun to play a user-friendly golf course like this one that doesn’t scare you on every hole like Pinehurst No.2 did, where it was nearly un-enjoyable,” he admitted.
McDowell was the one having most fun in his group, that’s for sure. Shane Lowry struggled, a pushed tee-shot on the 18th – his ninth – ruining his round. The Offalyman found four golf balls in the trees but none were his and he half-jokingly remarked afterwards that a lot of those in the gallery wanted to take his photo rather than help to search for the ball.
That lost ball proved costly, as Lowry reached the midway mark on 143, one-over. Lowry has added the BMW International in Cologne next week onto his schedule as a consequence, with one eye on securing an exemption into next month’s British Open in Hoylake. That qualifying table finishes up in Germany.
The other member of the three-ball, Paul Casey, also had his woes. The defending champion finished with three successive bogeys, which put a little dent into his aspirations to defend a title he won at Carton House last year. Casey shot a 69 for 139.
Whilst those around him were, at times, losing their heads, McDowell kept his. He remained calm and focused, producing a round that contained one bogey and six birdies. The most productive part of his round came from the second, his 11th, which kick-started a run of four birdies in five holes.
“I’m looking at the big picture this weekend. I’ve been unhappy with my game for a few months, really getting frustrated with myself in general trying to be a little too perfect. I’m getting some good feels coming back in my technique and chipping and putting. I’m the kind of guy who needs to be on the golf course. I don’t find my swing well on the range. I find it well with a card in my pocket.
“Perhaps I’m a little under-golfed at this point in the season compared to where I normally am. That’s by design, because I’m trying to stay fresh and I’m trying to have a long career. But, you know, there’s a balance to be found. I need to be golfed but I also need to be fresh . . .”
On this course, McDowell has found one that suits him to a tee where there is a premium on accuracy and length off the tee is not a significant factor. And any thoughts of reconstructing his swing to bring about extra length at the expense of accuracy has been dismissed after a chat with his caddie, Kenny Comboy.
As McDowell recollected, Comboy’s reaction to any swing changes were along these lines: “Kenny said to me, ‘I’ve got two words for you. Jim Furyk’. He’s trying to keep me driven to play the game that can win tournaments.”
Fota Island be the perfect place to re-enter the winner’s enclosure? No pressure.