McDowell aiming to break new ground in race for FedEx gold
GRAEME McDOWELL hopes to tick one surprise item off his bucket list during his final few weeks as a single man.
Despite his elevated status as a Major champion, European Ryder Cup talisman and world No 9, McDowell's never made the 30-man field at America's Tour Championship.
G-Mac is well-positioned to put this right as he enters today's opening FedEx Cup play-off, The Barclays, at 28th in the points table and with confidence soaring after an impressive finish at the recent PGA.
Fellow Ulsterman Rory McIlroy, 21 places further back in the FedEx charts after an exasperating season, is also expected to finish the US season with a flourish over the next five weeks after a morale-boosting performance at the year's final Major.
Following his eighth place finish at Oak Hill, McIlroy spent a couple of days watching girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki play tennis at the Cincinnati Masters before flying to the New York area to begin intense preparations for the four-tournament FedEx play-off series.
As a winner of two of those events in 2012, the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships, few would be surprised if McIlroy landed his first win of 2013 in the coming weeks, maybe even next Sunday, especially if he plays with the same upbeat attitude he showed at the PGA.
Tiger Woods, leading the FedEx race after five tour victories this year and free of his Major collywobbles, is the bookies' favourite to win The Barclays, plus a third FedEx Cup and $10m bonus.
McDowell's second only to Woods as a multiple-winner on the big tours this season after following-up on his first 'regular' PGA Tour victory at April's RBC Heritage by lifting the prestigious Volvo World Match Play and French Open titles. And the spectacular Sunday 66 which propelled him into a share of 12th place at the PGA suggests something really special awaits him this windy weekend on the New Jersey shore.
After an otherwise dispiriting year at the Majors, in which he missed the cut at the Masters and US Open and tailed-off behind Phil Mickelson in the British Open, McDowell (34) knows how difficult it is to peak at precisely the right time for the four biggest weeks of the season.
Intriguingly, his win at Hilton Head came a week after his disappointment at Augusta, while that phenomenal victory at Le France National was shortly after his US Open setback at Merion.
"Sometimes you're over-prepared and maybe put a little too much expectation on yourself," he said. "However, when you do let the pressure valve release, you play great a week or two afterwards."
He might well have spoken for Woods when he added: "This is a hard game. The ball doesn't know how many Majors you've won. Expectation levels from within are the killer.
"It doesn't really matter what the fans or you guys think or what they're saying on TV. When it comes from within, that's the killer. I've learned from that and managed to deal with it," he said.
Convinced he can add to the US Open title he won in 2010, he went on: "I certainly have a huge amount of belief I can win one more of these, maybe more. I'll just continue to learn and perfect the process."
Though looking forward to his September 28 wedding in the Bahamas to American fiancee Kristin Stape, McDowell also has his sights set on a place in the elite Tour Championship field at East Lake, Atlanta.
The top-125 in the FedEx standings play The Barclays, with 100 going on to next week's Deutsche Bank and just 70 making the BMW.
McDowell's made the play-offs only twice before, but fell at the second hurdle in 2011 and the third last year. "This is probably the first year I'm going in with some numbers on the board," he mused. "I'm guaranteed the first three events and kind of know what I have to do to get to East Lake.
"I set that as my goal at the start of the year, to try and get into the Tour Championship and experience that."
Planning to take four weeks off after his wedding, McDowell will resume his Race to Dubai campaign in the back-to-back BMW Masters and HSBC World Golf Championship in Shangai in October, followed by the DP World in Dubai.
He'll then head for Royal Melbourne (most likely with Shane Lowry) for November's World Cup of Golf and conclude his season at Tiger's World Challenge.
Clara man Lowry leads the eight-man Irish contingent into action today at the Johnnie Walker Championship.
Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington has replaced unavailable Phil Mickelson in the field for the PGA of America's Grand Slam of Golf from October 14-16.
The Dubliner faces Masters-winner Adam Scott, US Open victor Justin Rose and PGA champ Jason Dufner as he defends the Grand Slam Trophy he won last year, also as a replacement.
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