If Colin Montgomerie is looking for a partner for Rory McIlroy when the time comes to pick his Ryder Cup wild cards, Graeme McDowell could be the man.
But McDowell’s job for the next six months is to try to make sure he does not need that route into the team.
The next step in that bid came today when the 30-year-old played England’s Luke Donald in the opening round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.
More attention was bound to be paid to fourth seed McIlroy against American Kevin Na but his fellow Irishman and regular practice partner had his own agenda.
“I’ve had three first-round exits and a second-round exit in this, so that’s not great,” said McDowell.
“For a guy who rates himself a good match-play player, which I do, I haven’t had a run in this yet.
“I don’t know whether it’s because it’s early in the season and my game hasn’t been in the best shape coming in here, but this time I am feeling as good as I’ve felt in a long time at this stage of the year.
“I didn’t take much of a lay-off. I’m usually the sort who likes to play hard during the summer and then take a nice break but this time I’ve played a lot - and I felt like I played well enough to win in both Doha and Dubai if I had putted better.”
McDowell made his own Ryder Cup debut two years ago and came away with 2 1/2 points out of four.
“It’s good for the Ryder Cup that Monty knows Rory and I play well together,” he continued. “I’m in a slightly different position to two years ago because I’m a legitimate pick now. Last time I wasn’t.
“If my game’s in good shape and I still just miss out I’ve got a great shot at getting a pick. Not just because of Rory but because I did decently last time and I’m renowned as a good team player.
“That’s great but obviously I want to qualify automatically.”
Donald started favourite against him today not just because of his higher world ranking – 23rd to 47th – but also because he had a runners-up finish on the US Tour in Los Angeles two weeks ago.
Dove Mountain, however, is the longest course in European Tour history at 7,849 yards and lack of length is the biggest weakness in Donald’s game.
McIlroy, with whom McDowell won three out of four matches for Britain and Ireland at the Vivendi Trophy in September, made his debut as a US Tour member today.
“I’ve a lot of respect for him in that he makes his own decisions,” said McDowell. “For a young guy, he’s very mature and he makes mature decisions. His game is tailor-made for the States – it’s tailor-made for anywhere, let’s be honest.
“I said to him in Dubai after he shot four under the first day, ’You play well round here’. He looked at me and goes, ’Round here?’ He knows he plays well most weeks.”