McDowell aiming to stay patient
THE NAMES engraved around the base of the Claret Jug don’t lie. They chronicle the “Champion Golfer of the Year” on whichever links course the RA take the great championship and, in recent years, the affinity which Irish players have always had with this oldest of all the Majors has manifested itself in the worthiest manner of all.
Inside the past half-decade, the names of Pádraig Harrington, twice, and Darren Clarke, have been added to a roll-of-honour unlike any other in the sport. Who’s next? With a six-strong hand in the field for this 141st edition of the British Open, it can be assumed – rather safely – that at least one, and possibly all of them, is as entitled as any to have an eye on the silver trophy.
Graeme McDowell’s runner-up finish in the US Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco last month only served to reinforce the strong hand which this golden generation of Irish golfers bring to the table in each and every Major. Time and time again, one or more gets into the thick of contention. The delivery rate, ever since Harrington’s breakthrough win at Carnoustie in 2007, has been unprecedented.
McDowell, who collected his only Major so far in the US Open at Pebble Beach two years ago, is aiming to maintain that form from his San Francisco near-miss. “It fuelled my fire to get back in contention at the Majors. There’s no doubt, careers are defined by the Major championships and they are the toughest tests and the ones you want to try and put yourself in contention for,” said the Ulsterman.
Ironically, for a player who grew up crafting shots on links courses along the Causeway Coast, McDowell’s British Open performances – as he admits – are underwhelming. He has yet to manage a top-10 finish in seven appearances in the championship. And, yet, the confidence from his US Open effort appears to have travelled across the Atlantic.
“What are my expectations this week?,” asked McDowell, before continuing: “I’d love to have a shot on Sunday, love to be within four or five of the lead on Sunday. That’s what I’m trying to do. I have to try and stay patient and do that. You have got to keep your expectation levels in check because, take last year (at Sandwich), I was waxing lyrical about what I was going to do. I was playing beautiful. And within three holes on Thursday my head was off.
“You have to stay patient and realise it doesn’t mater how good you feel going into Thursday, that you have to try and react as well as you can to anything this course is going throw at you. It is going to throw the elements at you. You’re going to hit it in some bunkers. You’re going to hit it in the rough every now and again. And you have just got to try and keep the attitude right. And that’s what I’m going to try and do this week, try and rely and believe in how well I am playing and that I can get myself out of any problems.”
McDowell missed the Scottish Open last week to get his homework done on the course before arriving here. “I gave the Scottish Open a miss to a lot of people’s disappointment but you’ve got to make decisions like that in order to further your own career.
“So I came here and spent 48 hours at this golf course and really felt coming in this week like the pressure’s off me and I’m able just to work on playing this course and be ready. Without having played any competitive rounds on it, I would put it up there as one of my favourite Open rotation venues so far. I might say something different come Friday night but hopefully I’ll be reinforcing that comment on Sunday night,” said McDowell.
McDowell is part of a six-strong Irish challenge for the season’s third Major that also includes Rory McIlroy, Harrington, Clarke, Michael Hoey and British amateur champion Alan Dunbar. “You can’t discount anybody,” observed McDowell.
“A first-time winner this week could happen because the 21st century golfer comes out a little more experienced than he used to. Playing with Alan Dunbar (in practice), that’s an experienced kid for a 22-year-old. You look at Rory coming out a few years ago, you can’t discount anybody this week.”