G-Mac has learned Major lesson

Graeme McDowell, one of the favourites, will go into the British Open tomorrow determined to keep his own “dangerous” expectations in check.

The world No 7 will tee-off at Muirfield alongside fellow Major champions Tiger Woods and Louis Oosthuizen in one the tournament’s marquee groupings (2:45pm) having won the French Open in his last start a fortnight ago.

That was McDowell’s third victory of the year in an eight-tournament stretch that also saw him miss the cut five times, including at the US Open, when he was similarly fancied having won the RBC Heritage and Volvo World Matchplay events.

Now the 33-year-old Portrush man is hoping to have learned from that failure at Merion as he attempts to add a second Major of his career this weekend.

“I think I’ve became quite good at managing external expectations,” the 2010 US Open champion said.

“I’ve sort of been through that a lot in my career and learned how to deal with that and block it out... things like this, coming to the media centre on Tuesday of a Major championship... it’s normally because you’ve done something good... and I use that really as something to feed on, I suppose.

“I hope I’ll be here Friday, Saturday, Sunday of this week, that’s where I want to be. Learning to deal with the small things with being one of the favourites and things like that, my own expectations are the more dangerous ones, for sure.”

McDowell’s US Open experience at Merion last month was far from happy, a 76-77 start leading to a weekend off having gone into the second Major of the year as a leading contender.

“I’ve probably never gone into a Major feeling as tipped up and as heavily billed as I was going into Merion. I didn’t produce the goods. It certainly had nothing to do with expectation levels from externals. It was probably, like I talked about earlier, a lack of golf and under-golfed and it certainly wasn’t my own expectations.

“I’ve been around long enough to kind of know how to approach a week like this one. It’s a golf course which hopefully should set up well for me, premium and accuracy off the tee. And good iron play coming into the greens, and a lot of pace putting. I think this week is going to be very difficult to get close to these pin positions with it being so firm. You’re going to have to pace putt well and chip and putt well. So I’ll be ready to go Thursday, and have my expectations in check, hopefully.”

Struggling Rory McIlroy has had to deal with even greater expectations and closer scrutiny, having switched equipment manufacturers and adjusted his swing. Yet he believes the world No 2 is coping admirably with the pressure and expectation, and pointed out McIlroy was in a similar place a year ago before winning the PGA championship and ending the year as the money leader on both sides of the Atlantic.

“I think Rory has handled things incredibly well,” McDowell said. “He’s obviously struggled with his form a little bit this season for his extremely high standards, the high standards he sets himself and the high standards we expect from him, because he is a phenomenal player, a phenomenal talent.

“And the way he’s handled things the last few years has been incredible. He’s, I’m sure, put a lot of pressure on himself this year to prove to everyone that he can make a switch the way he has and continue to perform.

“So I don’t think anyone in this room would be shocked if he won this week, and would continue to have a phenomenal rest of the year. We always say form is temporary and class is permanent. And he’s a class player, and I expect to see him back very soon.”

McDowell’s confidence in his friend’s ability was endorsed by Woods, who has experienced similar scrutiny of his game.

“I won a Major championship my first one out as a professional, and then I proceeded to alter my swing a bit with Butch [Harmon],” Woods said.

“And it took me the better part of a year-and-a-half, maybe almost two years before it really clicked in.

“I was getting questioned quite a bit through that stage of my career, ‘why would you do something?’, ‘how could you change something that won the Masters by 12?’ And, yeah, I’ve gone through that process.

“He’s going through that right now and he’s making some alterations. People obviously speculate and analyse and hypothesise about what he should or shouldn’t do, but deep down he knows what he’s doing.”


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