McDowell targets Ryder Cup place

He was not at the Ryder Cup and he has yet to figure prominently at a major, but Graeme McDowell is starting to become a real force in European golf.

He was not at the Ryder Cup and he has yet to figure prominently at a major, but Graeme McDowell is starting to become a real force in European golf.

The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland is joint leader with Phillip Price at the halfway stage of The Heritage at Woburn and if he wins tomorrow could find himself sixth on this season’s Order of Merit with only five events to go.

It will also be a superb response to the bitter disappointment of not winning the German Masters two weeks ago.

McDowell led by five with 17 holes to go and was six clear of playing partner Padraig Harrington.

But it was the Dubliner who went on to win handsomely and in the end McDowell, collapsing to a 77, finished joint third.

“It was probably one of the lowest points of the year – a big blow – but I have moved on from Cologne very quickly,” he said. “I led the tournament for three-and-a-half rounds against a world-class field and I had a lot of positives to take away from it.

“I played great golf and I have continued this week where I left off.”

In between, of course, he watched Harrington and Europe’s other 11 cup heroes wipe the floor with the Americans and that has made him all the keener to be part of the action in 2006 when Ireland stages the match for the first time at the K Club near Dublin.

McDowell, a team-mate of Luke Donald at the 2001 Walker Cup win in America, won just his fourth professional tournament and was in the running for this year’s side with one event to go, but he had to win it and a closing 62 came too late.

He added: “At the start of this year I did not realise just how realistic a goal Ryder Cup was for me. I know it is now and 2006 is top of my list as far as working towards it.

“Everything I do will be geared towards that. What a place to make my debut and I can only imagine what it would be like – it will be something else.

“Bernhard (Langer) said last week he could have taken 20 guys to America. I guess 10 or 15 years ago it was not like that. We did not have the strength in depth we do now and there is no doubt there is going to be a lot of competition for spots.”

Price plans to be part of that competition, having been told by his wife Sandra: “I would like to be at the K Club.”

They were at The Belfry two years ago, of course, with Price being one of Europe’s heroes there with his singles win over Phil Mickelson.

The 37-year-old was unable to keep his place and has fallen from 10th to 56th on this season’s Order of Merit.

There is time to put that right, but even if he triumphs this weekend Price will not qualify for next week’s American Express World Championship at Mount Juliet in County Kilkenny.

He needs to be in Europe’s top 20 or the world’s top 50 for that and that restriction means Colin Montgomerie and Ian Poulter miss out as well after failing to survive the halfway cut at Woburn.

Ryder Cup fatigue was the obvious explanation for that – both finished four over, Poulter having a 77 on day one and Montgomerie the same score on day two - and all credit therefore to Harrington and David Howell for making it through the first two rounds, Harrington on one under and Howell on three under.

Price and McDowell are a stroke ahead of Patrik Sjoland and Henrik Stenson, two Swedes trying to get their careers moving again.

Sjoland has not won since the 2000 Irish Open at Ballybunion, Stenson since the 2001 Benson and Hedges International at The Belfry.

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