Irish contingent aiming high in Valderrama

HOLDER Graeme McDowell is chasing his first tournament success of 2011. Peter Lawrie is bidding to put his place in the Race to Dubai order of merit on the European Tour beyond any further doubt. Shane Lowry badly needs a big finish to get back among the top 60 who make it to the Emirates for the cash rich Dubai World Championship in December.

Damien McGrane is just inside the top 115 who keep their cards for 2012. But Gareth Maybin is one outside that mark and so desperately in need of a sizeable proportion of the €3m prize money on offer. For Paul McGinley, the event is an opportunity to revive the happy memories of 2005 when he captured the Volvo Masters at Valderrama. And Paul Cutler is hoping to kick start his professional career having missed two cuts since turning professional & in September.

So there’s a host of Irishmen with a lot to play for having assembled at the outstanding Robert Trent Jones Snr. designed course in Southern Spain for the Andalucia Masters, the last tournament on European soil for the year.

McDowell was typically honest in his assessment of a campaign that has been in stark contrast to last year when he was US Open champion, Ryder Cup hero and almost winning for fun.

“Yeah, I was in cruise control then,” he agreed.

“I’ve been trying to emulate 2010 too much. It was all that people wanted to talk about. Now it’s different. I haven’t putted as well and that was caused by wanting it too much. There is more pressure on me now.

“I had a good start to the year, I then went to sleep for four months, had a decent run in the FedEx Cup in the States and finished third in the Dunhill at St Andrews. So I feel good about things again and am looking forward to the rest of the year.

“I’m starting the first of seven tournaments in a row this week. I’ve always loved Valderrama, it’s one of my favourites on the tour and have great memories of the place, like having an albatross two at the 17th a few years ago and of course winning last year. It’s tough and if I have four level par rounds of 71, I would expect to finish in the top 10.”

McDowell is currently 24th in the Race to Dubai, a secure position that the remainder of the Irish here this week would love to enjoy. Peter Lawrie has been very solid throughout the year but is still no better than 54th.

Shane Lowry has blown hot and cold and his lack of consistency means he is 63rd in the rankings with quite a bit of ground to make up.

The challenge facing McGrane and especially Maybin is a lot more intimidating. The former has been on tour since 2003 and at the end of last year had accumulated more than €3. 7m in prize money. For some strange reason, he has struggled this year and currently stands 107th in the order of merit with €250,238. He has a bit of leeway where remaining within the top 115 is concerned and is much encouraged by his performance at Valderrama last year when he tied for second two shots behind McDowell.

Ironically, Maybin was one of those to share the runner-up spot with McGrane so he will be hoping for another good week that would improve his 116th place in the order of merit.

And then there’s the 22-year-old Cutler. Before making the move to the paid ranks, he distinguished himself by tying for 21st in the Irish Open at Killarney, shooting highly commendable rounds of 69, 67, 71 and 72 to finish five under par.

Having emerged unbeaten in his four matches in the Walker Cup, he turned pro and received invites to the Austrian Open and the Dunhill Links Championship. Unfortunately, he missed the cut in both and failed to come through the first qualifying week for the European Tour School.

Sergio Garcia is the 13/2 favourite to become the first Spaniard to win a professional tournament at Valderrama while home fans are also hoping that long hitting local Alvaro Quiros, will keep the title at home.

World number six Martin Kaymer predicted the winning score will be “in single digits”. He is quoted joint second favourite at 20/1 with McDowell, in-form Thomas Bjorn while Justin Rose at 22/1 may be good value as he has ground to make up.

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