Graeme McDowell returns to the course where his major championship journey began in 2004, armed with a dozen years of knowledge and a belief he can finally solve The Open puzzle.
Royal Troon was the 25-year-old McDowell’s entree to golf’s top table and, alas, for the Portrush golfer it was an all-too fleeting experience. Yet the man who would win a US Open six years later enjoyed every minute of it and has a good feeling about returning here for this week’s 145th Open.
“I made my debut in a major here, in 2004. I missed the cut comfortably, I think, but it was great,” McDowell said.
“I was like a rabbit in the headlights because this is the big show, a major championship set-up, all those things. But it was a learning experience.”
Of his career since, which in addition to his Pebble Beach success in 2010 has also seen him a further 13 tournaments and represent Europe in three Ryder Cups, 37-year-old McDowell said: “As I stand here looking back you feel like you could have done better, but that’s golf for you, isn’t it? But I certainly would have taken it and I come in this week obviously able to open my eyes and take it all in.
“This is just a puzzle that needs to be solved rather than it being a Rubik’s Cube and you’re saying, ‘Jaysus, how am I getting around here?’.
“That’s how I felt in ‘04 whereas now I’m coming in here I feel more controlled, I have more belief and I’m more patient and I can solve the puzzles a bit better.”
After an encouraging month which saw him score a tie for 18th in the US Open at Oakmont and a share of 10th place at last weekend’s Scottish Open, McDowell agreed this week’s Open could be his week, “...but several players in the field will probably have a problem with that, so we’ll see.
“It’s all about the start, Thursday and Friday, getting the right side of the draw, getting off to a start. And if I can get into the weekend here and get the juices flowing again, I feel like I have a chance. I got the juices flowing a little bit last weekend, which was nice. Tee to green I hit the ball beautifully, I wasn’t quite tight enough in and around the greens Saturday and Sunday to be better than I wanted to. I was a little frustrated Sunday late on that I had let it slip, because I had played all the golf, but it is all there, confidence, it is coming.
“A nice performance at the US Open in general, solid performance last weekend again, coming in here to a golf course I think appeals to my positional nature. There’s a lot of different ways to play these holes. I think we are going to see a lot of different wind directions. It is a thinking man’s track. You’ve got to stay out of these bunkers, there’s not a ton of rough, it’s not terribly long, I like the way the challenge lays out.”
In stark contrast, Greystones’ Paul Dunne has arrived in Troon with confidence at a low in his maiden season on the European Tour. A year ago he was Ireland’s Open hero, the amateur who defied the odds to share the lead after 54 holes with Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen.
He would eventually finish in a tie for 30th at St Andrews before turning professional but after a strong start to his rookie year with a tie for ninth at the Joburg Open in South Africa, form has taken a dip and Dunne, 23, will tee off tomorrow having missed four cuts in his last five starts.
Getting to The Open by winning final qualifying at Woburn for the second year in a row represents a high point in Dunne’s season but he said: “I haven’t been playing well for last few months. Really all year, not felt like I’ve had my game for one week. Even good finishes I’ve had I’ve just hung in there to keep my scores going. Working hard and hope it turns around this week. Been a lot of missed cuts. I’d like to never miss a cut. When you do it’s horrible.”
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