McDowell far from downbeat


GOLF/WALES OPEN:GRAEME McDOWELL will not be reaching for the panic button after his Wales Open title defence was blown into oblivion at a wet and windy Celtic Manor where Swede Alex Noren won his second European title

McDowell’s closing 71 proved 10 shots better than his calamitous third-round effort, but his 81-71 finish contrasted vividly with events of a year ago when he carded a 64, then 63 to stave off Welsh challenger Rhys Davies.

The Northern Irishman’s next competitive round will be at the Congressional course in Washington on Thursday week when he begins the defence of his US Open crown.

And despite this weekend’s sobering experience after the champagne moments that Celtic Manor provided him with last year through the Wales Open and Ryder Cup, McDowell is far from downbeat. He said: “The damage was done yesterday, and today was about trying to go out and repair some of the damage.

“I played quite nicely today. I struck the ball well. I had a disappointing finish (he bogeyed the 18th), but generally hit the ball good.

“Yesterday was my golf tournament done. I am not disturbed about my game in any shape or form. My game is in good shape, it’s firing on all cylinders.

“Of course, I have work to do between now and Congressional, but yesterday was just a bit of an anomaly. I lost the feel of my swing a little bit. They were tough conditions out there today, windy and wet early on, and I hit some nice shots.”

Yesterday’s performance equalled the two worst rounds of his European Tour career – 81s at Valderrama in 2002 and the 2005 US Open at Pinehurst.

It is also less than a month since he collapsed from first to 33rd with a closing 79 at the Players Championship in Florida.

But McDowell did not resemble a downcast figure under the leaden Usk Valley sky. He added: “I am heading back to Portrush for three days just to put the feet up and chill and recharge the batteries. Then I am out to Orlando on Thursday, have a weekend’s practice and up to Congressional probably next Sunday night.

“It’s going to be tough. I saw the golf course a few weeks back – it looked very long and demanding that day – but hopefully it has firmed up a little bit. It should be a great week. I am looking forward to defending.”

Noren’s previous tour win came in Switzerland two years ago after he sank a bunker shot for an eagle four holes from the end.

Noren has now added the Saab Wales Open at the Ryder Cup venue by two strokes from Dane Anders Hansen and Frenchman Gregory Havret after a closing 70 containing just two birdies and one mistake.

That came on the driveable 15th when, with confidence high and a three-stroke cushion, he went for the green with a three-wood and saw it go left and kick down a bank into a hazard.

A bogey five brought the gap down to two, but he parred the last three holes for a nine under par total of 275. It completed a dream week that began with him qualifying for the US Open – his first ever major in America.

But Noren’s work goes on. Winning the title does not spare him from 36 holes of British Open Championship qualifying at Sunningdale today. “It will be weird, but I will look forward to it,” he said. “My driving has been the best it’s ever been. I never really believed I could do well on tough courses, but now we play them all the time. I’ve proved to myself I can hit a lot of greens and not just rely on my short game.”

Darren Clarke is not going to forget Celtic Manor’s 14th hole. After a quadruple-bogey eight there on Saturday, he took a 10 on his return today. After driving into the lake the Ulsterman went to the drop zone and hit two three-woods back into the water. “And I hit them all well,” he said after a second successive 80 made him 18 over par for the tournament. “Let’s just say this course does not really fit my eye. It never has done – and I putted unbelievably poorly as well.”

Never before in a European Tour career going back to his debut as an amateur in 1990 has Clarke failed to break 80 in two successive rounds.

Best of the Irish was Damien McGrane on 286.