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McDowell eyes gains in Spain

Graeme McDowell is determined to make a mockery of his world ranking and prove he has the talent to become one of the game's elite players.

The Portrush star (30) reached a career high of 28th in the world nearly two years ago, but has since slipped into the stressful twilight zone between 40th and 60th.

He was in danger of being edged out of the world's top 50 this week but was relieved to move up one place to 49th, earning automatic starts in the US Open and the Open that are vital to his chances of winning a second Ryder Cup cap in October.

Now he is determined to push on in his search of some "big weeks" and is hoping he can put his foot to the floor in this week's €1.5m Madrid Masters, which is being played next door to the old Spanish Formula One Grand Prix circuit at the short and tricky Real Sociedad Hípica Club de Campo.

Chasing a top prize of €250,000, McDowell said: "I've been on the bubble of the top 50 for two years now so it would be nice to fulfil my expectations about the way I am playing, post a few results and get myself well inside the top 25 and be done with this top-50 stuff.

"That's the goal for the rest of the season, because I am playing well enough. I just have to put it all together. It's the big weeks I need."

McDowell was sure he had done enough with his 28th-place finish in the BMW Championship at Wentworth to remain in the top 50 before Monday's qualifying cut-off for the next two Majors.

Had Brian Gay, Scott Verplank and Michael Sim birdied the final hole in the Byron Nelson Championship in the US, he would have lost out.

"I had a printout with what everyone within 20 spots of me had to do, but Brian Gay and Scott Verplank weren't on it," McDowell explained.

"I thought I'd be safe but if I hadn't made the top 50, I was happy to skip the US Open qualifier and just come here and then prepare to play the BMW International the week after Pebble Beach."

McDowell insists that he is not obsessed by the Ryder Cup qualifying table but he is aware that he is more than €400,000 off the pace in the European points list.

"I don't wake up on a Monday morning, pull the rankings out and work out where I stand, but I am aware that I need some big weeks," he said.

"For the past two and a half years, I've been between 28th and 55th in the world. That's a long time and I feel I am a better player than that."

The Irish Open will play a major role in deciding the make-up of the European Ryder Cup team, but European Tour chief George O'Grady vigorously denied that the event was facing a potential €1m loss this season.

Speaking in Madrid, O'Grady insisted: "It's nowhere near a million. We are one small sponsor away from breaking even and I am confident we'll get one."

Title sponsors '3' and Fáilte Ireland are stumping up the €3m prize fund and O'Grady believes the Tour can raise enough cash from the gate and a series of secondary sponsors to cover the staging costs.

Eleven of the world's top 50 are in action in Madrid, headed by Germany's Martin Kaymer, England's Luke Donald and Spanish stars Sergio Garcia and Alvaro Quiros. McDowell is one of seven Irishmen in action alongside Paul McGinley, Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Simon Thornton and Gary Murphy.