McDowell remains major doubt

GRAEME McDOWELL'S participation in the €4million Volvo Masters is in doubt following the recurrence of spinal injury. He has slipped to 51st place in the world rankings.

He desperately needs a top 50 finish this year if he is to qualify for all the major and world championships in 2006.

A few months ago, that ambition looked a castiron certainty but that situation has since changed.

The talented 26 year-old from Portrush was involved in a motor accident in Manchester and suffered spinal damage. After intensive physiotherapy, he was confident that the problem was minimal and he duly finished 6th in the American Express Championship in San Francisco.

"I was working out in the gym the week after the Amex and whatever way I twisted, something went," he explained yesterday having withdrawn from the pre-tournament pro-am as a precaution. "It's very frustrating because I thought my game and my fitness were where I wanted them. The problem, of course, is that I'm on the bubble for the world top 50 and it's so important to be in there. I figured I needed a good week here and in the HSBC tournament in China to get back. I've been working with Dale Richardson (physio to many of the European Tour pros) and I will leave it as late as possible before making a decision. I don't want to cause any further damage and it's only 50-50 whether I'm able to play or not."

McDowell is one of a record six Irishmen in the field. The challenge, as always, is led by Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley with Peter Lawrie and Damien McGrane hoping to lend further credence to a profile they've been steadily building up over the past few years.

However, none appear to be particularly optimistic about their chances of claiming the whopping first prize of €666, 666.

McGinley, however, intends to be as positive as possible and quite rightly is deriving immense self belief from the fact that he is now 26th in the world rankings and 6th on the European Tour order of merit.

"I've had the last two weeks off and didn't touch a golf club for ten days", he said. "I needed that break. I had four intensive weeks up to and including the American Express. I'm playing three of the next four weeks including China and up to the World Cup at Villamoura. It's been a great season so far but unfortunately it hasn't included any wins and that's very disappointing because I played myself into good positions in the BMW PGA, the World Match Play and the NEC World Championship and didn't finish any of them off.

"However, if you asked me if I would trade one win for moving forty places up the world rankings, I would have to say no. Not being in the top 50 is a severe disadvantage. I have never done well at Valderrama and I honestly don't know why because I like the course. It should suit me because I can find the fairways and I'm encouraged by my third place finish in the NEC at Firestone because that was also a course on which I hadn't played well on either."

McGrane and Lawrie have arrived in contrasting frames of mind. Whereas Lawrie took a month off and is refreshed having stayed with his wife Philippa in preparation for the arrival of their first child, McGrane admits to being a little jaded after battling for all his worth to capture the 60th and last qualifying spot for this tournament. As it happens, withdrawals have reduced the field to 55 which means the Meath man goes out in the first match at 10am along with a marker.

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