McDowell still backing himself but fears Tiger will be 'tough to beat'
GIVEN his astonishing recent record of winning every time he's made the cut at a tournament since April's US Masters, Graeme McDowell playfully advised punters to "get your money on me now" as he eased into the weekend at the British Open.
Joking apart, McDowell nominated Tiger Woods as the favourite to lift the Claret Jug tomorrow after playing 36 holes with the world No 1 at Muirfield.
As he did at Hoylake in 2006, when Woods won the most recent of his three British Opens, Tiger's been the epitome of patience and control this week as he plotted his way around a marble-slick and super-quick golf course.
"Tiger will not be very far away this weekend, the way he's playing. He just hits the shot that you're supposed to hit at all times," said McDowell, admitting he told Woods "that was a clinic – that was very impressive" as they shook hands on 18.
McDowell made the cut on four over, six behind Woods, but was encouraged enough by a significant improvement in his own performance during yesterday's level-par 71 to nurture hopes of shooting the third-round 67 he reckons he needs today to propel himself into contention for a second Major title.
An opportunity to zone in entirely on his own game this weekend should help McDowell.
"It's very difficult to focus on your own game when you're watching maybe golf's best-ever player," explained the world No 8, adding that the withdrawal of their playing companion, Louis Oosthuizen, with a hamstring strain on Thursday "made the intensity level kind of crank up a little bit.
"I enjoy playing with Tiger. I'm fairly comfortable playing with him," added McDowell, who famously beat Woods in sudden death after an intriguing head-to-head at Tiger's own Chevron World Challenge a couple of years back.
"The only trap I ever fall into is just standing back and admiring what's happening beside me. Sometimes you can find yourself getting a little too full of admiration, when you really need to believe in your own game.
"I'm looking forward to getting out there in the third round, getting in my own zone and trying to play some golf," said the 2010 US Open champion, who chuckled at the suggestion that he was the only man in yesterday's two-ball to have won a Major in the past five years.
"I hadn't thought about it that way, maybe I should have," mused McDowell, who believes Tiger is "very close to being back" to Major-winning form.
"I'm not writing off the rest of the field nor, indeed, myself, but if he continues to playing the way he has this week, he's going to be tough to beat."
Asked precisely what it was about Tiger's play during rounds of 69 and 71 in circumstances that would test the powers of concentration and patience of a Trappist monk, McDowell enthused: "I'm not sure there's a better iron player in the world.
"It's incredible how well he controls his ball flight, which allows him play the golf course very conservatively and consistently, using his iron play to devastating effect."
Further memories of Tiger's win at Hoylake, where Woods famously used his driver just once in 72 holes, were stirred as McDowell revealed: "I had to double-check with Joe LaCava, his caddie, that the driver head cover actually had a driver beneath it, because it hasn't seen the light of day, not even close."
Amusingly, Tiger threw a curve ball yesterday when asked how many times his driver had come into play this week. "I believe I've hit about eight or 10," he said.
Where? "On the range," Woods laughed, adding: "Got you there!"
Though eyebrows shot up when Woods three-putted twice, missing from very close range as he bogeyed four and eight, McDowell insisted the key to a possible 15th Major title for Tiger this weekend could be his confidence on rock-hard and often perplexing greens.
"He's putting exceptionally well. I lost count of the number of eight, 10 or 15-footers he's made for par over the past two days," said McDowell.
"This golf course is very tough and it's going to ask questions of you quite often, but Tiger really hung-in with his putter."
As for his own prospects, McDowell chirped: "Yeah, it's not like me to make a cut, so I'm pretty happy with that. Get your money on me now as I only win these days when I play at the weekend."
"I certainly didn't want to be sitting at home watching this on TV. I'm ecstatic to be here," McDowell concluded.
"The golf course is going to get tougher and tougher and literally anything under-par could win."