Graeme McDowell is on the verge of doing something really “big” in the game but those who fancy a Masters flutter on the pride of Portrush should save their cash for another day.
It’s not that the 36-year-old doesn’t believe he can’t win the green jacket but as he faces his ninth battle with Augusta National with the scar tissue of previous battles still tender, he’s not getting his hopes up.
Having made just three cuts after eight previous trips down Magnolia Lane, he said: “I still love it. I’m just here with a smile on my face this week, just having some fun.
“I’ve got Hilton Head and San Antonio coming up after this one and this is probably the least of my three chances. But I’m okay with that; I’m accepting of that. I’m just playing here with an open mind this week.”
Paul McGinley has studied McDowell’s statistics and fancies him to pull off a big win soon.
“Graeme is trending, if you’re to look at the stats, as well as anybody in world golf at the moment,” McGinley said.
“He is a player who relies very much on his driving being accurate in order for him to play well. At the moment he’s very near the top in driving accuracy so it’s no coincidence he’s playing well.”
McDowell agrees with McGinley but he’s not having his jacket measurement taken just yet, not if he doesn’t drive it arrow straight and putt like God.
“I think quietly within our camp we see big things on the horizon,” he said under the giant, 150-year old oak tree on the lawn beyond the clubhouse.
“We like where we’re going and we like the way our stats are trending. We like the things that we’re seeing, very much so.”
There’s just one big but and that’s the golf course that stretches out below him. McDowell loves the verdant paradise but he always lives in fear of what the green jackets will do to make life hell for the players.
Looking up at sunny skies with a cool breeze blowing through the trees, he said: “When they’ve got weather like this, they seem to be able to control the golf course and it can be whatever they want it to be.
“I think it’s an amazing place from the point of view of what you can do with an unlimited golf course maintenance budget, the things they subtly do.
“Allegedly they replace two of the greens every year, which is amazing. No other golf course in the world does that. They can settle each week with pin positions. It’s a very smart venue.”
McDowell has to be even smarter and he must find fairways to be able to attack pins and then rely on his chipping and putting to score.
“I don’t think I’ve putted my best game here at Augusta, so I’m just focusing on speed, just spending more time on and around the greens,” he said of his form on Augusta’s greens.
“Rather than becoming obsessed by the intricacies of getting from tee to green, I’m being more obsessed about in and around the greens. That’s kind of my focus.”
Lowering expectations also helps and McDowell has no ego problem with Augusta.
“I think I’ve learned not to get too pent up about this one,” he said with a wry grin. “It’s a tough golf course for me and I’m going to have to really chip-putt well to compete here.
“I think being okay with that is just part of the experience of my ninth Masters I suppose.
“The fact I know it’s not a perfect set-up for me means I’ll require a good attitude to get around here this week. We’ll see.
“I love being here. It’s such a special place and it is an unrequited love thing. I do love this golf course very, very much.”
Lack of length is a factor for McDowell around a course that plays into the hands of the bigger hitters but it is around the greens where he’s tied himself up in knots.
He vividly recalls his debut alongside two time winner Ben Crenshaw in 2005, where he shot rounds of 79 and 70 to miss the cut by just one.
“I putted like a 15-handicap amateur golfer and he putted like, well, Ben Crenshaw,” McDowell said with a smile.
“I three-putted three of my first five greens, or something like that. So you’re always in awe of the place.”
Having too much respect for the course is not always a good thing and McDowell knows he’s going to have to attack when he gets a chance.
He said: “You can’t go out there and play away from every flag. You have got to do a lot of things well here, you have got to do that every week, but this golf course, if you are driving it well and your iron play is on you are going to hit it into portions of the greens to give yourself opportunities.
“If one of those two first parts is slightly off, this golf course will expose you and that’s when it becomes difficult.”
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