Two important cut-off dates looming for Graeme McDowell
Big performances needed to seal place in WGC Matchplay and US Masters
Graeme McDowell: paid a couple of reconnaissance visits to the venues for the upcoming Valspar Championship and Bay Hill Invitational events. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Graeme McDowell joined his good friend Ian Poulter and paid a couple of reconnaissance visits over the weekend to upcoming tour stops, and with good reason.
While Poulter, playing on a medical exemption, is fighting to regain his tour card before the number of his eligible tournaments run out, the Northern Irishman is aiming to gate-crash his way into two big upcoming championships, the Dell Matchplay and the US Masters.
As things stand, McDowell – who has already missed the WGC-Mexico Championship due to his current world ranking falling outside the top 50 – isn’t yet into the field for either the Matchplay in Houston on March 22nd-26th or for the Masters at Augusta National on April 6th-9th.
Now, a couple of important cut-off dates are looming for McDowell.
For McDowell, ranked 87th in the latest world rankings, to earn tickets into either event, the strategy is straightforward: to make it into the Matchplay, he needs to break into the world’s top-64 by next Monday (March 13th); and to get into the Masters, he needs to break into the world’s top-50 by March 27th, the day after the Matchplay when the world rankings are released in the week ahead of the season’s first Major.
All of which explains why it was so important for McDowell on Sunday to get an advance practice round in at the Copperhead course at Innisbrook which this week hosts the Valspar Championship, after which the field for the Matchplay will be finalised.
His second stop last weekend? That took McDowell on to Bay Hill, the resort owned by the late Arnold Palmer which next week plays host to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
As it happens, McDowell – a resident of Orlando – has been nominated to fill in as tournament host in Bay Hill along with Annika Sorenstam, Curtis Strange, Peter Jacobsen and former US Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.
One of their tasks will be to greet and present the trophy to the new champion on the 18th green after the final round. If McDowell were to be presenter and receiver, it would of course sort out that desired invite to Augusta!
So, the Valspar this week and next week’s Bay Hill Invitational are important tournaments in terms of mapping out McDowell’s itinerary in the coming months, with big performances needed if he is to add the Dell Matchplay and the Masters to his scheduling.
McDowell is one of two Irish players in the field in the Valspar, with Waterford’s Séamus Power, in his rookie season on the PGA Tour, also playing.
Power unfortunately isn’t in the field for the Bay Hill next week, where McDowell will be joined by Rory McIlroy, who has opted to take this week off to fully assess his health following the WGC-Mexico Championship, and Pádraig Harrington, if fit.
McIlroy’s first appearance on tour since losing a playoff to Graeme Storm in the South Africa Open in January produced an impressive first half in Mexico but a disappointing weekend. Having led at the 36-holes stage, McIlroy fell away over the final two rounds to eventually finish in a share of seventh place.
“I needed to get off to a fast start and I didn’t. That was really it. I mean you look at what DJ did through sort of the first nine holes [of the final round], I needed to get off to a start like that.
“The course got a little trickier over the weekend. Maybe I just didn’t quite adjust to that. But all in all, first week back [from injury], it’s okay,” said McIlroy, who will take a week’s break before playing back-to-back weeks in Bay Hill and Houston.