McDowell primed to cash in on hot streak
EVERY time you buy a lottery ticket, you can't help wondering if this might be the one.
Well, Graeme McDowell gets that feeling every time he tees it up on Tour these days, only he's got a lot more reason to be optimistic about a weekend windfall than the rest of us.
For a start, the Portrush man has been posting some pretty impressive numbers in the States in recent times, not least the final-round 66 which propelled him into a tie for sixth at the WGC-CA Championship in Doral over the Blue Monster course.
That striking effort last Sunday week copper-fastened McDowell's place in the world's elite top 50 and assured him of an invite to the Arnold Palmer Invitational -- he'll be Ireland's only representative when play commences today at the greatly refurbished Bay Hill Club in Orlando.
The 30-year-old has good memories of Bay Hill, principally a share of second place with Vijay Singh, two behind winner Kenny Perry in 2005, which still ranks as the Ulsterman's best finish in a US PGA Tour event.
McDowell's life and his career have changed utterly since then. A couple of years back, he decided to return home to live in Portrush; he linked up with the vibrant young Irish sports management company Horizon and reunited with caddie and close friend Ken Comboy.
The chaos of his ill-advised effort to sustain membership of the European and US Tours from outside the world's top 50 in 2006 was gradually replaced by stability. In 2008, he brought his tally of European victories to four at the Ballantines then Loch Lomond, followed by an impressive Ryder Cup debut in Valhalla.
Though one of only 12 players to make the cut at all four Majors, last year was solid, largely unspectacular (including his share of 40th behind winner Tiger Woods on his first visit in four years to Bay Hill).
Yet something clicked when he stepped into Tiger's shoes at December's Chevron Challenge in Thousand Oaks and finished second only to Jim Furyk. That spark is still there and McDowell is mature enough to recognise it.
So when this guy says something special is just around the corner, it might pay to sit up and take note, especially when he's rated as a 40/1 outsider, as he is at Bay Hill this week.
"My form has been good the last few months, and I feel I'm close to getting a big result soon," he said. "All areas of my game are in good shape, and my performance earlier this week at the Tavistock Cup, on the extremely difficult course in Isleworth with some of the fastest greens we will play all year, further emphasises of that."
McDowell not only featured on the winning Lake Nona team at the Tavistock but was pipped only by Aussie Nick O'Hern in his determined bid to retain the Payne Stewart Salver, awarded to the best individual scorer in this prestigious two-day match.
"Bay Hill is a great event, and I'm delighted to playing here this week. I needed a big performance at Doral to get an invite to Mr Palmer's event, and I did just that. It's a course I like and I'm hoping to finish on a high before I got to Augusta next week to prepare for the US Masters," he said.
Ernie Els, who seemed to resurrect his career at Doral, and last weekend's Transitions winner Furyk are joined in the field at Bay Hill by two other members of the world's top 10, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson.
So even in the absence of Tiger, who has won this title for the past two years and six times in all, there are enough star names in action to maintain Bay Hill's reputation as one of the showpiece events on the PGA Tour.
Extra interest will focus this season on extensive improvements to the course, which has been stretched to 7381 yards. With the fourth and 16th holes playing as par-fives for the first time since 2006, the par score will be restored to 72 from 70.
Meanwhile, judging by the final-round 67 which clinched Peter Lawrie a top-10 finish at the Hassan II Golf Trophy in Morocco, the Dubliner appears best equipped of nine Irish competitors to stare down local favourites Alvaro Quiros and Miguel Angel Jimenez in the Open de Andalucia at Parador de Malaga.
Gareth Maybin tied with Lawrie in Morocco but didn't perform well enough last Sunday with his belly-putter to inspire confidence. Also seeing action in Andalucia are Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Shane Lowry, Damien McGrane, Michael Hoey, Gary Murphy and Simon Thornton.
Walker Cup star Niall Kearney is the only Irish representative at the Challenge Tour's Kenyan Open, while Des Smyth, Jimmy Heggarty and Denis O'Sullivan tee it up in tomorrow's first round of the Berenberg Bank Senior Masters in Fancourt, South Africa.
Open de Andalucia,
Live, Sky Sports 1, 11.0
Arnold Palmer Invitational,
Live, Sky Sports 2, 7.0