McDowell wants McIlroy to partner him in the World Cup in Melbourne

If it means he’ll have to represent Ireland in the Olympics, so be it

Rory McIlroy takes a picture of his caddie, JP Fitzgerald, playing a shot to the par-three 17th during a tournament for caddies at Sawgrass yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images

Rory McIlroy takes a picture of his caddie, JP Fitzgerald, playing a shot to the par-three 17th during a tournament for caddies at Sawgrass yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images


Past failings around Sawgrass haven’t affected Graeme McDowell’s confidence heading into the Players, a tournament with the moniker of the unofficial fifth Major in golf’s ranking. “I’ve some nice momentum,” explained the Ulsterman, returning to competitive action for what he calls the “meat of the season” after triumphing in the Heritage Classic at Hilton Head last month.

And, whilst the Players is the immediate concern for G-Mac as he seeks to lead a three-pronged Irish attack on the tournament that offers a $1.7 million windfall to the eventual champion, McDowell also chose to reaffirm his position on the Olympic question by revealing he would want to play in this year’s World Cup in Australia even if that meant putting an end to his choice on the matter.

As McDowell – who had an informal, private conversation with Rory McIlroy on the issue on Tuesday evening – put it yesterday: “The dilemma Rory and I face is a very unique one. Regarding the World Cup of Golf (in Royal Melbourne in November), if we played we’d then be compelled to play for Ireland in the Olympics Games (in 2016). Is that rule going to stand?

“I had an informal conversation with Rory about are we going to play in the World Cup together? I need my partner in crime in Melbourne. I would love to do that and the Olympics will not enter my head with regards to making the decision of whether I’m going to play in the World Cup.”

‘Would like him to be there’
McDowell added: “If it forces me into playing for Ireland at the Olympics (under Rule 41), so be it. Regardless of whether Rory plays (in Melbourne), I want to play and I would like him to be there as well.”

Back up to eighth in the world rankings, McDowell – whose win in Hilton Head followed a missed cut at the Masters – is licking his lips at an upcoming schedule that starts with the Players, moves on to the BMW PGA at Wentworth (where all 12 of Europe’s successful 2012 Ryder Cup team will be in action) and on to the US Open at Merion.

Of his win in the Heritage, McDowell commented: “Some wins have felt like finish lines, some have felt like springboards . . . it was nice to get a win under my belt going into the heart of the season.

“I’m in a good place, mentally and physically. I feel like I took some nice momentum away. This is a course where you have to be very patient. It kind of eggs you on into going for it, (but) you have to be patient, to take the rough with the smooth.”

McDowell missed the cut a year ago over the Pete Dye-designed course and was 33rd in 2011 when he actually held the lead going into the final round.

More manageable
As far as returning to competition after a break is concerned, he responded: “My game is becoming quietly more manageable over the years . . . there was a time I didn’t respond to time off, but I’m becoming a guy who is getting better at it. I describe myself as rested and ready to play golf.”

For his part, world number two McIlroy – who has yet to make a cut at Sawgrass and who is making his fourth appearance in the event – provided a couple of reasons for his missed cuts on what he termed “a tricky golf course”.

Of his debut in 2009, he observed: “I was in (Las) Vegas the week before; that didn’t help; then the next, it was my 21st birthday, that didn’t help . . . . the last time (in 2012), I have no excuse.”

McIlroy, who hasn’t won since the European Tour’s season-ending Dubai World Championship last November, said the best part of his game at the moment was his iron play. “I’m back hitting 70-80 per cent of my greens again,” he said.

Pádraig Harrington has missed the cut in his last three appearances in the Players, but has also gone close to capturing the title and twice finished runner-up in back-to-back years (in 2003 and 2004).

“This is a golf course where you look at the field and say to yourself, ‘anyone can win’. It doesn’t really suit any particular player. Strategy is key, a mix of caution and aggression,” said McIlroy of a field that is the deepest in the sport and a course that has consistently outfoxed him.