McDowell relishing return

SO much attention is being paid this week to Pádraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy that some might be inclined to forget that there’s a third Irishman, Graeme McDowell, in the Masters field.

Although one of the few European successes in last September’s Ryder Cup, the 29-year-old from Portrush has been surprisingly quiet since. So far this year, he has finished no better than 33rd in his four stroke play events in the United States and lost in the first round of the Accenture World Match Play Championship to Zach Johnson.

He splits his time between his homes in Portrush and Lake Nona near Orlando, Florida and has yet to see his 2009 campaign take off. He did chalk up one notable success, though, shooting the lowest score in the Tavistock Cup, the annual match between the residents of Lake Nona and Isleworth, the home of Tiger Woods, among others.

He picked up $400,000 (e301,000) for that achievement, a quarter of which he donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Northern Ireland.

McDowell has been building nicely and quietly for the Masters, having visited Augusta National twice recently for practice rounds with his father Kenny. And having shot rounds of 79 and 70 to miss the cut in his only Masters appearance in 2005, he believes he has figured out a plan that will best serve his interests.

“Four years ago, it was all very new and exciting and I played too much golf in practice and was almost worn out before tournament time came round,” he admitted. “Now I’m much more professional and laid back.

“I played the front nine on Tuesday and the back nine yesterday and feel I’m ready to go.

“It’s been a nice relaxed build up aimed at conserving energy. I’ve played enough now to realise you’ve got to be feeling fresh and ready. I’ve purposely had a slow start to the season from a scheduling point of view. Maybe I haven’t played quite the way I would like to but at the same time the game has just been bubbling under the surface.

“The season starts here this week and I’m looking for a good performance.

“I’m trying not to expect too much but I’m interested to see how my game is four years down the line from my other appearance at Augusta.”

Instead of wearing himself out on the golf course, McDowell has concentrated heavily on chipping and putting, pointing out that “you’ve only got to look at the guys who win major championships, like Tiger and Padraig in the last few years. They have great short games and that’s what it is all about.”

In contrast to his fellow Ulsterman, Rory McIlroy clearly imbued with the virtues of youth, has taken every sensible opportunity to play a course he has dreamt about since his earliest days. He agrees with McDowell regarding the importance of the short game while declaring that: “I spin my chips shots a lot so the course sets up nicely for me in that respect. But you can also hit chip shots that you think are going two feet past the hole and they end up 20 feet past.

“Pace is all-important and getting the ball to within six feet or so. I think putts of between three and eight feet are going to be crucial this week because you are going to have a lot from that distance. I’m practising hard to get my stroke good for those.”

As for the course itself, McIlroy is as excited as a teenager in his circumstances should be!

“It’s different because you have to play so many shots,” he pointed out.

“There are so many variations and you have to have a good imagination.”

If he puts all that together, heaven alone knows what this extraordinarily talented young man could do over the next few days. Perhaps even join Tiger Woods in the last match on Sunday?

“That would be an occasion to relish,” he smiled. “It’s what you’ve practised your whole life for, to be able to play the final round of major with the best player in the world.”

Stranger things have happened.


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