Sport Golf

Saturday 7 December 2019

I'm a bit of a mental case: McDowell

Karl MacGinty, at Sandwich

CAN you identify this mystery player?

He's from Ireland, is a Major champion and has been performing way below expectation, missing the cut at the US Masters and British Open in 2011.

Maybe a few of the words the dejected star uttered yesterday afternoon will help: "I've always enjoyed the mental side of the game, but I wouldn't say I'm enjoying it so much right now, because I'm a bit of a mental case out there."

Getting warm?

"Maybe I need an attitude readjustment," he added. "I need to care a bit less about the game. I mean, I love this game, I'm working hard and will continue to do so, but I'm just not putting it into play right now. It's disappointing."

That man is Graeme McDowell ... but how many of you thought it might have been Padraig Harrington?

It's remarkable how closely the quotes fit the Dubliner as he endures a disconcerting crisis of confidence with his putter, for years the strongest weapon in his arsenal.

Forever chiding himself for "trying too hard," Harrington missed the weekend for the fifth time in his last seven Major Championships by one tantalising stroke last night after yet another intensely frustrating time on the greens.

On four-over par after following up on Thursday's 73 with a second-round 71, Harrington had to spend much of the evening on tenterhooks with Lee Westwood, among others, before his fate was sealed.

Yet McDowell never had any chance of making the weekend on five-over after slumping to a shocking second-round 77.

"Getting to be a bit of a habit, these types of days," the Portrush man admitted after a round which included five bogeys, plus a crushing double-bogey at nine and, frustratingly, not even one birdie in the best of conditions on a desperately difficult course.

So what happened to the man who last year trumped Harrington as the most formidable grinder in golf by winning the US Open at Pebble Beach, clinching Ryder Cup victory for Europe at Celtic Manor and hunting down the Tiger to claim his fourth tournament success of 2010 at November's Chevron World Challenge?

Yesterday he was at a loss to explain a round which contrasted starkly with his opening 68, though it had been disconcerting to hear McDowell admit caddie Ken Combody had to "talk me down off the ledge" after he'd slipped to three-over through five holes on Thursday.

Clearly, McDowell is being very hard on himself and it's showing in his game.

"I couldn't put my finger on anything that was particularly bad today," he mused. "I just drove it average, my iron play was average, everything was average. The technique is all there, but there's just something going on.

"I couldn't have had better preparation than I've had for this tournament, but I'm just not having a lot of belief in myself. Maybe my expectation level is putting a little too much pressure on myself. This is the Open. We are under pressure, we want to do well. Maybe I'm trying a little too hard.

"I'm disappointed in my mental approach. I just don't have that dig-deep in me. It's weird. It's not me. It's not my mind of golf," complained McDowell.

A series of uncharacteristic on-course implosions by McDowell this season include a final-round 79 after leading through 54 holes at the Players and a nightmare 81 on Saturday in the Wales Open.

Frankly, his performances this season bear all the hallmarks of mental fatigue -- the Ulsterman didn't take sufficient time off to recover from his heroics in 2010 and is paying the price. With little prospect of a rest in the meat of the season, his best chance of a break will come next winter.

Harrington has worked long and hard with mind-guru Dr Bob Rotella this week, but with less spectacular results than those achieved by another of Dr Rotella's clients, Darren Clarke.

"I'd better go talk to Bob (about that)," the Dubliner said, adding a little levity to a disappointing situation. "He's saying the same stuff to me. It's just a question of believing it, isn't it?"

Harrington has won just once, in Malaysia last October, since winning his third Major title in 13 months at the 2008 US PGA Championship and has slipped out of the world's elite top 50 in the process.

But the 39-year-old Irishman's loss of trust in his putter this year is particularly disconcerting as he revealed that he'd bin his current two-ball putter -- Harrington's best friend on the golf course since 2003. "If I found something I liked, it'd be out the window."

Harrington is unlikely to take up a broomhandle, saying he'd be more tempted by Matt Kuchar's style of holding a long putter tight to his left forearm.

"The last two days on the greens, I've just hit some awful putts, terrible putts," he confessed.

"Today I hit every iron shot down the flag, probably the best iron play I can ever remember, but three three-putts is a lot.

"I'm hitting bad putts from 15 feet and I'm just not trusting my pace, not trusting my line and it's creeping into my stroke," Harrington added.

"I've got to really commit to my read, whether it's right or wrong, then my putting will come back," he concluded.

"It's pretty bad, so you usually find the solution when it's pretty bad."

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