McDowell returns to action with a new look

 

GOLF:ONWARDS AND upwards with his rise to fifth in the latest world rankings, Graeme McDowell’s star simply moves higher and higher, both on and off the course, with a series of new sponsorship deals to complement his playing feats.

The 31-year-old Ulsterman breaks yet more ground this week when he tees it up in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the traditional season-opener on the US Tour, at the Kapalua resort in Hawaii.

With a 34-man field, no cut and a guaranteed four rounds in temperatures of around 800F, G-Mac – who likes the sun on his back – couldn’t resist the temptation of the Pacific islands paradise.

It has always been a personal goal for him to play in the tournament.

McDowell, the only one of last year’s major champions to kick-start the season in Hawaii, has been busy off the course since finishing his stellar year with victory in a head-to-head with Tiger Woods in the Chevron World Challenge last month.

McDowell will make his seasonal debut as the new face of Srixon, replacing Jim Furyk – the US Tour’s player of the year – who has moved to TaylorMade.

The multi-year deal is worth a reputed €2.25 million annually. McDowell, who was a Callaway player when he won his maiden major title in the US Open at Pebble Beach last year, will use a Srixon bag, wear the hat, include the firm’s irons and wedges from sister company Cleveland in his bag and use their Z-Star ball as he follows up his remarkable season.

The move is just one of a number of corporate sponsorship deals completed over the winter close season which affirms McDowell’s global marketability.

Apart from the Srixon sponsorship, McDowell has also signed deals with credit card company Mastercard and shoe manufacturer Ecco to go along with the existing arrangements he has with Swiss watch manufacturer Audemars Piquet, Middle East business empire Al Naboodah, Dublin tailor Louis Copeland and private jets company Marquis Jet.

While McDowell heads into Kapalua with a number of new logos on his wardrobe, the man from Portrush will carry in a huge measure of confidence from his form in 2010 when he was the dominant player, with four wins on the European Tour, including that breakthrough major win in the US Open, and, of course, his starring role in winning the Ryder Cup for Europe.

As McDowell put it at the tailend of his remarkable run in 2010, “It’s important I re-adust my focus and take the positives and confidence out of this year and pour it back into next season.”

With just a short hiatus at home in Portrush over the Christmas, McDowell’s season is just about under way, although he will get an immediate reminder of his heroic efforts of last year when he lines up alongside US Ryder Cupper Hunter Mahan for the first round in Hawaii. McDowell sealed Europe’s win with his singles win against Mahan on that famous Monday in October at Celtic Manor.

McDowell is one of just four Europeans in the field at Kapalua, alongside Englishmen Ian Poulter and Justin Rose and Italian Francesco Molinari.

Of the four, Molinari is the only one who hasn’t taken up US Tour membership for 2011.

In McDowell’s case, it will be a case of juggling his itinerary on both tours as, like Poulter and Rose, he retains membership of the European Tour.

Rory McIlroy, whose win in Quail Hollow last year earned him a place in the field, has decided to wait until the Desert Swing, on the European Tour, which starts with the Abu Dhabi HSBC tournament, before making his competitive return.

Pádraig Harrington will also make his seasonal appearance in Abu Dhabi.

Aware of the need to map out his itinerary, McDowell has decided against playing in next week’s Hawaiian Open, so his next outing on tour will be in Abu Dhabi later this month.

After that, he will be based mainly on the US Tour for the first part of the year, with a likely outing at the Los Angeles Open at Riviera in February and then competing in the Accenture Matchplay later that month.

Geoff Ogilvy is the defending champion in Kapalua, a course where Australians have had an excellent hit-rate: Stuart Appleby, who is also in the field, won on three successive occasions from 2004.

With none of the top four in the world playing, McDowell is the highest ranked player in the field.

(US unless stated, last week in brackets)

1. (1) Lee Westwood (Eng) 9.10 ave pts

2. (2) Tiger Woods 7.69

3. (3) Martin Kaymer (Ger) 7.15

4. (4) Phil Mickelson 6.55

5. (6) Graeme McDowell (N Ire) 6.11

6. (5) Jim Furyk 6.10

7. (7) Steve Stricker 5.97

8. (8) Paul Casey (Eng) 5.77

9. (9) Luke Donald (Eng) 5.57

10. (10) Rory McIlroy (N Ire) 5.50

11. (11) Ian Poulter (Eng) 5.48

12. (12) Ernie Els (Rsa) 5.47

13. (13) Matt Kuchar 4.68

14. (16) Retief Goosen (Rsa) 4.45

15. (14) Dustin Johnson 4.44

16. (15) Francesco Molinari (Ita) 4.35

17. (17) Robert Karlsson (Swe) 4.30

18. (18) Edoardo Molinari (Ita) 4.08

19. (19) Hunter Mahan 3.97

20. (21) Robert Allenby (Aus) 3.69