Saturday 20 January 2018

Graeme McDowell eyes Major prizes

Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell

Karl MacGinty

GRAEME McDOWELL knows he'll never hit a ball quite like Rory McIlroy. Yet there are different ways to win and even the world No 1 will find it difficult to shake off the Portrush grinder if it comes down to the crunch between them on Sunday at the Majors.

It was fascinating to see McDowell's response on Sunday when Keegan Bradley threw down the gauntlet on the back nine at Sherwood – as if from a time warp, the fearsome competitor within the Ulsterman reappeared.

Suddenly, it felt like 2010 all over again as McDowell started playing miracle short-game shots and sinking clutch putts similar to those which, two years ago, famously dispatched host Tiger Woods in sudden death.

One moment, McDowell was four ahead and coasting. Then he three-putted 13 for bogey six as the American made birdie four and the game was on. The fighting Irishman drew as much inspiration from this backs-to-the-wall situation as his opponent.

Enough to confirm that McDowell in 2013 can once again be a force for best pal McIlroy to reckon with on days of attrition at the Majors, like Sunday at the 2010 US Open in Pebble Beach.

A crucial par-saving putt at 14, another 12-footer for a vital birdie at 16, McDowell's glorious chip-back from the dead to make par at 17 and that facile birdie at the last for 68 and his three-stroke victory will keep the embers burning during his 10-week winter break.

McDowell is from honest working stock in Portrush. He grew up with a gift for maths and studied mechanical engineering on a scholarship in the US. He's sharp and too clever to showboat. The result is a popular guy with a gift for sensible gab.

No question, McDowell crossed the line at 16 on Sunday with an unwholesome gesture in the direction of the empty-headed 'fan' who roared 'mashed potatoes' after he hit his approach to 16.

Yet there'd be plenty of volunteers to pay any fine! Having the silence shattered with shouts of 'in the hole' or 'you da man' or (since 2010 in the US) the meaningless 'mashed potatoes' is, to say the least, hugely irritating. "I'm kind of fed up with all this rubbish," McDowell explained. "Keegan had a guy out there who went 'yabba dabba doo' after every shot. It was just stupid.

"It kind of gives some spectators their two or three seconds of fame, but it's not a lot of fun for the players, it gets a little frustrating for everyone."

He expressed "sympathy" for Bradley after the American was called "a cheater" on Saturday, though it'll remain legal to anchor belly-putters until January 2016.

Still, McDowell supports the ban and urged the PGA, European and other leading tours to row in with golf's ruling bodies, the USGA and R&A, on this issue.

After 10 weeks off in which he and fiancee Kristin Stape will settle into their new house in Lake Nona and McDowell prepares to open his bar-restaurant 'Nona Blue' in Orlando, he'll return to action at February's Northern Trust Open at Riviera.

Having emerged with his competitive instincts intact from two frustrating winless years, McDowell relished the prospect of "seeing Rory down the stretch somewhere some Sunday afternoon – hopefully, it's in California. That's all I can say."

Irish Independent

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