Feeling as fresh, focused and relaxed as he was entering his life-changing week at Pebble Beach ahead of the 2010 US Open, McDowell is once again unburdened from the pressures and pleasures of being a reigning major champion. And on the back of some encouraging form during his US Open defence at Congressional and also last weekend at the Scottish Open, he returns this week to the type of links golf he grew up playing at his beloved Portrush. Which means the Irishman is in something of an ideal position to take on the challenges of Royal St George’s and think about lifting the Claret Jug come Sunday evening.
“It is nice to be coming into a major championship feeling as fresh as I do right now,” McDowell said yesterday.
“It is nice to get the US Open out of the way, there was a big build-up to it and a lot of reflecting.
“I felt great at Congressional, played really well, hit it well, and I felt good again in Scotland last week. I feel I’m getting better all the time. I’ve just got to be patient and to be ready to do it when the time comes.
“I certainly haven’t felt this good in a while coming into a major, since Pebble probably, as far as a major championship goes. From a point of view of being so excited and so much attention on me and it is nice to be flying under the radar and quietly going about my preparation. Just feeling very fresh.”
Fresh was exactly the feeling he got yesterday as he played nine holes in winds of up to 35mph, compared to the flat calm he experienced over 14 holes of his Monday practice round. He would much prefer the former this weekend.
“I want at least a 10-15 miles per hour (wind) every day to separate the wheat from the chaff a little bit. You have got to hit normal style golf shots and keep it in play, but when you have got this type of wind you have got to flight it properly and control it.
“What I love most about links golf is your practice round can be thrown out the window with a different wind direction. You have got to be smart, you have got to have done your preparation and you’ve got to know what you’ve got to do when the wind goes the other direction. It is good to confuse a few boys.”
Whatever the forecast, McDowell agreed with the consensus that Royal St George’s was something of a second-shot course, with the emphasis placed upon iron play rather than tee shots.
“(That suits) someone like a Luke (Donald) or a Westwood — the world rankings are never far away. My iron play in Scotland was really good, really very happy.
“Everything I touched in 2010 turned to gold but my game this year has not gone quite as well… but I feel in good shape. The game’s giving me a few kicks at the minute, that’s fine.”
Those kicks have been short, sharp and very painful. Like at The Players Championship, when three bad swings at the sixth, seventh and ninth sent him tumbling from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 33rd after a final-round 79. Or at Celtic Manor, when he his Wales Open title defence hit the skids with a third-round 81. And last weekend when two more bad swings at Castle Stuart’s 12th undid his Scottish Open hopes.
“I had 53 decent holes in Scotland and two wayward swings on 12 on Sunday. I’m quietly very happy and I’m trying to stay patient and you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.”
With the world number one spot changing hands regularly, the current number nine is a couple of good weeks away from putting himself in the mix. Yet McDowell remains focused on peaking four times a year and collecting more major titles.
“Of course I would love to taste the number one spot. Even for a week. I think the key is preparing yourself for the big events. The majors are still it. I wouldn’t trade my US Open for a week at number one in a million years.”