McDowell salutes ‘the curly-haired kid’

Graeme McDowell led the praise for "the curly-haired kid" at Hoylake last night as Rory McIlroy got his hands on the Claret Jug and brought Irish golf its eighth major in as many years.

Portrush golfer McDowell, who preceded McIlroy by a year in winning the US Open in 2010, will now have to follow the 25-year-old into the Open winner’s enclosure after his Ryder Cup team-mate won his third major since 2011.

McDowell eagled the 18th and final hole to finish in a tie for ninth with fellow Irishman Shane Lowry but spoke warmly of McIlroy as he closed out the win on the Wirral peninsula, describing his “huge amount of appreciation for what he’s doing, respect for what he is in the game of golf, and how good he is for the game of golf.

“It’s been an interesting day, because we had enough wind to make it tough, but enough wind to keep it scoreable, as well. Nice way to finish for me, obviously but (I am) envious and respectful and appreciative of the curly-haired kid.”

By completing three legs of career grand slam by the age of 25, McIlroy’s victory here has prompted instant comparisons to Tiger Woods in his pomp at the turn of the century but McDowell asked: “Will we ever see that dominant player again? It’s tough to say. We have the beginnings of one in Rory, but by his own high standards he stuttered for a year and a half or so ... every career has peaks and troughs.

“We’re saying that perhaps dominance can happen, but the last 18 months for Rory, can be just a blip on the radar and perhaps he gets back to winning every time he tees it up. Who knows, it’s exciting to watch, though.

“I think he’s learning all the time. There’s no doubt this is a momentum sport. Tiger had that capability of getting it done ugly. Perhaps Rory has to prove he’s got that side to him, who knows I’m certainly not in a position to comment on that. Tiger Woods is a hell of a lot more knowledgeable in that department than me. I can just sort of sit back and admire how good Rory is and we’ll watch from there.

“But a third leg of the Grand Slam at 25 is pretty good.”

McDowell also spoke of the remarkable winning streak of eight majors by Irish golfers, including three from Pádraig Harrington and one from Darren Clarke, from the last 27 majors played since the 2007 Open.

“It’s the golden generation. Eight major championships, we have Pádraig Harrington, Rory and myself and Darren. It’s added something to the pot. That’s great. It’s exciting. With The Open Championship announcement (for Royal Portrush in 2019). And Rory getting it done here now it’s pretty exciting times.”

Lowry also shared his admiration for former amateur international team-mate McIlroy, adding: “I think his ‘A’ game right now is pretty much almost unbeatable, it is pretty scary how good he is. He’s only 25 but he’s been an unbelievable talent since he was a kid. Anything he does you’re not surprised to see it.

“I can’t remember much (playing together) as amateurs. But the one thing that stands out is how good he played when I played a practice round with him at Congressional (at the US Open in 2011). And that’s why I think his good golf — his best golf is almost unbeatable.”

Outgoing champion Phil Mickelson said he was impressed by McIlroy completing the third leg of the career grand slam, just as he did in winning The Open at Muirfield in 2013. A US Open is all that eludes Mickelson from joining an elite quintet of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan, while McIlroy will attempt to complete the set at next April’s 2015 Masters.

“That’s a pretty impressive thing for him to do, especially given that the one that he’s missing is the Masters,” US star Mickelson said. “And you know with his length and the way he plays and how well he plays that golf course, that that definitely will happen and probably soon. And that just shows that he’s such a complete player at such a young age.”

Ireland’s Major champions

1 Fred Daly — The Open – 1947, Royal Liverpool

The Royal Portrush man becomes Ireland’s first Major winner, taming Hoylake’s mighty winds to triumph by a stroke from US amateur Frank Stranahan and England’s Reg Horne to collect the £150 first prize.

2 Pádraig Harrington — The Open – 2007, Carnoustie

Ending a 60-year Irish drought in the Majors, Harrington wins a play-off duel with Sergio Garcia to bring the Claret Jug back to Ireland.

3 Pádraig Harrington — The Open – 2008, Royal Birkdale

Harrington, overcoming a wrist injury scare, successfully defends his title as Champion Golfer, his three wood approach at the 17th a shot for the ages in a four-shot win over Ian Poulter.

4 Pádraig Harrington — PGA Championship – 2008, Oakland Hills

After back-to-back Opens comes back-to-back Majors as Harrington ended a 78-year European barren spell in the PGA to emulate Scottish-born Tommy Armour’s 1930 victory. He did it by once again crushing Garcia’s hopes, this time with a 15-foot par putt on the final green.

5 Graeme McDowell – US Open – 2010, Pebble Beach

Another European winless streak comes to an end as McDowell becomes the first European winner of the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970 as he claims his first Major title in the middle of a stellar year that saw him secure the winning point in the Ryder Cup.

6 Rory McIlroy — US Open – 2011, Congressional

Weeks after his Masters meltdown, McIlroy banishes the demons of Augusta National by storming to a record-breaking, wire to wire US Open victory, claiming his first Major by eight strokes at 16 under par, the lowest score in the 115-year history of the championship and its youngest winner, aged 22 years and a month, since Bobby Jones in 1923.

7 Darren Clarke — The Open – 2011, Royal St George’s

After a successful but unfulfilled career, Clarke, then 42, gets the prize his talent deserved all along as he wins The Open at the 20th time of trying in his 54th Major appearance.

8 Rory McIlroy – PGA Championship – 2012, Kiawah Island

Regains the world number one ranking in spectacular fashion by winning his second Major, converting a three-shot 54-hole lead, the rain-delayed third round having been completed on Sunday, into another eight-stroke victory.

9 Rory McIlroy – The Open – 2014, Royal Liverpool

Another command appearance from McIlroy as he again leads from wire to wire to win by two strokes from that man Garcia and complete the third leg of a professional career Grand Slam at the age of 25. It is Ireland’s ninth Major, an eighth in as many years, and at the course where Fred Daly started it all 67 years ago.

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