McDowell wary of Tiger test

GRAEME McDOWELL expresses complete and unabashed fondness for Rory McIlroy, but you suspect there are times when he wishes his young friend would consider his public utterances a little more carefully.

GRAEME McDOWELL expresses complete and unabashed fondness for Rory McIlroy, but you suspect there are times when he wishes his young friend would consider his public utterances a little more carefully.

McDowell, at 31, is 10 years McIlroy’s senior and wasn’t exactly over the moon when he recently expressed the view that given the current state of Tiger Woods’s golf game, any member of the European Ryder Cup team would fancy taking him on at Celtic Manor next week.

“I am always a bit wary of saying anything where Tiger is involved because he is the greatest player to have played the game,” warns McDowell. “Anyone who has said things like that in the past, it’s come back to haunt them. I think of Stephen Ames at a World Matchplay a few years ago and there have been a few more examples.

“I do agree with Rory to a certain extent. I think what he’s trying to say is that Tiger is less invincible now than he has been in the past. When you look at the kind of golf he played in 2000 and some of his other big years, he’s been simply unbeatable. I agree with Rory, he is more beatable nowadays but you never know which Tiger Woods is going to turn up.”

McDowell goes into his second Ryder Cup as US Open champion and in spite of his respect for Woods, relishes the prospect of going head to head with Tiger over three days in south Wales.

“I’d love to play him on Sunday afternoon in the singles with the Ryder Cup on the line,” he declared. “It would be an amazing experience. I’d love to be involved in a couple of matches with him but I’d always be wary about making comments against Tiger. He tends to bottle these things up and take it out on you on the golf course.”

Whereas McIlroy seems to enjoy putting on a public persona that he could take or leave the Ryder Cup, McDowell sees the biannual event as one of the biggest possible weeks in his professional career.

“It’s one of those events that I never missed a shot of,” he enthuses. “It’s such a TV spectacle, I grew up with the Ryder Cup and have just loved every second of it.

“Of course, major championships are what really define a player when their career is done. But to me it’s about Ryder Cups as well and teams you’ve played on and winning for your country or continent. I just feel like sharing it with 11 other players and the experiences you have are just so different to what we are used to in golf. Until players get out there and taste it for the first time, they don’t understand it.”

As well he might be. Making an impressive debut at Valhalla two years ago no doubt helps in that direction — McDowell beat Stewart Cink 2&1 in the singles — and he makes no secret of how much he is looking forward to next week’s renewal.

“I guess the biggest difference for me this time round is knowing what to expect,” he predicts. “I’ll be feeling like I am one of the more integral parts of the team, going there with my game in shape and expecting to get three or four games, if not five. I’ve always enjoyed team golf.

“The Ryder Cup gives you that opportunity to share it with 11 other guys, caddies, wives, girlfriends, the backroom staff and everyone involved. It’s such a completely different experience. Valhalla was amazing. I was a little more anxious about what to expect when I got there. This time we’re going to a familiar venue where I won in June. As US Open champion, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable.

“If you’re in contention on Sunday at a major, you’re there because you are playing well. With the Ryder Cup on Friday morning you’ve nothing to base that on. You’re putting your tee in the ground for the first time that week and it’s Sunday afternoon major championship pressure right away.”

While there has been much comment about rookies comprising half of the European team, little mention has been made of the fact that there are five in the American squad. Anyway, McDowell makes little of a perceived lack of experience in the home side.

“Rory McIlroy is one of the more talented and experienced players in the world. Ross Fisher is a great player and won multiple times. Martin Kaymer, rookie? They’re not rookies and we are going to have a magnificent team.”

Concern has also been expressed with McDowell’s loss of form since his marvellous triumph in the US Open last June but he believes he has addressed the issue and will be ready when the gun goes next Friday.

“The two weeks after Pebble Beach, trying to deal with everything, the celebrations and all that, then I played five of the next six weeks (so) it’s no wonder I turned up at Whistling Straits feeling a shadow of myself,” he says.

“Physically I felt okay but mentally I didn’t have it on the golf course. I felt I had that back in Austria last week.”

AS for the controversial inclusion of Pádraig Harrington as a “wild card” pick, McDowell looks at the positives: “I expect the same Padraig to be there regardless of how he is playing. His work ethic is there for all to see.

“He’s going to bring a great dynamic to the team room. He’s the most experienced player we have, a three-time major champion and he has the kind of intimidation factor we need on the first tee.”

Although McIlroy and McDowell look a readymade partnership for fourballs and foursomes, McDowell takes nothing for granted.

“There’s nothing I’d like more than to get on the first tee with Rory in the first match next Friday morning,” he enthuses. “He’s one of my best friends. He’s maybe the most talented player I’ve ever seen. To have the opportunity to play with him at the Ryder Cup would be special.”

However, he also teamed up well with Miguel-Angel Jimenez at Valhalla and describes him as “an excellent foursomes player who hits a lot of fairways and is a good putter”.

Interestingly, McDowell mused that “we’ve got so many interesting pairings this time round, the Molinari brothers, Poulter and Fisher, myself and Rory, but they’re all maybe too obvious. Monty might try to look beyond the obvious and try something different.

“But there’s nobody on that team I wouldn’t want to play with.”

McDowell describes Montgomerie as “an extremely organised and articulate guy” and doesn’t openly criticise Nick Faldo’s contribution in 2008.

But he does point out that apart from an animated speech by Jose-Maria Olazabal, “there was no real emotional stuff and I don’t know if we had that X-factor in the team room. We’ll certainly have that with our backroom staff this time. They have the passion to get guys up for it from the word go.”


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