Graeme McDowell has work to do if he is to bag Major starts

Sole Irish player in Valspar Championship not exempt for USPGA, US Open or Open

Graeme McDowell celebrates a hole in one on the 17th green during the second round of the Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell is the only Irish player in the field for this week’s PGA Tour stop, the Valspar Championship.

For the 41-year-old Northern Irishman, however, each week is gaining an ever-greater significance in his attempts to work his way into the fields for the season’s three remaining Major championships.

As things stand, McDowell isn’t exempt for next month’s US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island; his 10-year exemption into the US Open, which takes place at Torrey Pines in June, expired last year; while he has yet to earn an exemption into The Open at Royal St Georges in July.

Most immediate for McDowell is his attempt to get into the field for the PGA at Kiawah Island in South Carolina.


The most direct route would be to win, starting with this week’s Valspar (or, failing that, at next week’s Wells Fargo or the following week’s Byron Nelson ) while another possible route would be to break back into the world’s top-100 by the May 10th cut-off point.

McDowell, who was 80th at the end of 2020, has fallen to 126th in the latest official world rankings.

For both the US Open and British Open championships, the world ranking exemption cut arrives on May 24th (following the PGA), with the top-60 in the world getting into the championship at Torrey Pines and the top-50 earning an exemption to Sandwich.

McDowell would, of course, have the fall-back of going through the pre-qualifying events for both if he doesn’t win or work his way up the rankings.

While McDowell – who tied-23rd in partnership with Matt Wallace at the Zurich Classic, where there were no world ranking points on the table – focuses his schedule stateside, Dubliner Niall Kearney is aiming to make the most of his opportunity in getting into the fields for the European Tour's stretch of tournaments in the Canaries.

Professional debut

Originally, Kearney had planned on playing in the Challenge Tour swing currently under way in South Africa. But he made the most of a late call-up into last week’s Gran Canaria Open (finishing 21st with all four rounds under par, netting a payday of €15,242 to move to 169th on the Race to Dubai standings) and will aim to kick on at this week’s Tenerife Open and next week’s Canary Islands Championship, both tournaments being played in back-to-back weeks in Adeje.

Kearney is one of five Irish players in the field at the Tenerife Open, where he is joined by Paul Dunne, Cormac Sharvin, Jonny Caldwell and Tom McKibbin.

McKibbin, a winner of the Peter McEvoy Trophy and the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley as an amateur, has secured a sponsor's invitation in making his professional debut.

Gavin Moynihan will seek to end a miserable run of 17 missed cuts (dating back to last year's Austrian Open) when he plays in the Bain's Whisky Cape Town Open on the Challenge Tour, where Michael Hoey is also in the field.