Saturday 3 December 2016

McDowell back on happy hunting ground

William S Callahan

Published 16/04/2015 | 02:30

Ian Poulter of England waves to the gallery on the second hole during the final round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia.
Ian Poulter of England waves to the gallery on the second hole during the final round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia.

Jordan Spieth, the hottest property in golf right now, proved himself a true Master of Augusta - and equally important for the image of the game, the 21-year-old epitomised class and dignity in the manner of his admittance to the exclusive club of Major winners.

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The media world cannot get enough of him, and while many kids of his age might be tempted to let rip with the celebrations for a month or two after his stunning success, Spieth has fronted up to his duties.

That includes affirming his commitment to the organisers of the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, South Carolina, in which Spieth will tee it up today just days after his Major triumph.

Can the Boy Wonder stave off the physical, mental and emotional aftershock of not only winning the Masters, but also finishing second in each of his previous two tournaments?

Contending in any PGA Tour event is demanding, but when the third one in a row places you at the head of the leaderboard for four straight days in the hallowed surroundings of Augusta, the body and mind have got to feel the effects.

Nevertheless, Spieth is up for the challenge and a plethora of fancied contenders for the Masters who were left in his wake are champing at the bit to take him down this week.

Among the likely lads who made a run at Spieth's lead and fell off the pace were Ian Poulter, Charley Hoffman and Kevin Streelman. Graeme McDowell loves the Masters but accepts that his game is not really suited to Augusta. Hilton Head is a different proposition, and offers positive memories for the Ulsterman, who won there in 2013 after a play-off with Webb Simpson.

He relishes the shot-making requirements, the small and tricky greens and the blustery winds that ensure course and self-management are at a premium.

Meanwhile, four Irishmen compete in the inaugural Shenzhen International at Genzon Golf Club in China.

Kevin Phelan, who finished joint third in his last event, the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco, earning €61,250, is joined by Michael Hoey, Damien McGrane and Peter Lawrie.

Phelan is making strong strides in seeking to win back his Tour card and goes into the tournament with his confidence high.

McGrane is an experienced battler who needs to push on and start climbing up the Race to Dubai rankings, while Lawrie's lack of Tour status means he relies on invitations.

Bubba Watson is the star attraction in Shenzhen. The 2014 Masters champion and World No 4 really fancied his chances of retaining his Green Jacket but a 38th place finish meant it was tears of a different kind for the American last weekend.

"I went there with high expectations and just didn't make the putts," was Bubba's summing up of his performance, although he paid due tribute to Spieth.

The American should relish the wide-open fairways at Genzon GC, which was the venue for last year's China Open won by Alexander Levy, who set a course record 269 there, including a 62 en route to victory by four shots over England's Tommy Fleetwood.

Hoey finished joint eighth in that China Open and this could be the course to allow him open the shoulders and get firing on all cylinders.

Shenzhen International,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.0am

RBC Heritage,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0pm

Irish Independent

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