McDowell at coolest as battle heats up
IT looks crazy on paper but works out very nicely on grass! With three wins and five missed cuts in his last eight tournaments, Graeme McDowell's mazy journey through the past three months will leave many sports fans perplexed.
For his colleagues in professional golf, McDowell's dizzying recent run establishes him as one of their most dangerous rivals going into next week's British Open at Muirfield. Few could relish the prospect of going head-to-head down the stretch with this fearsome Northern Irishman on Sunday week.
Or at the climax to any event on a golf course set up as tough as the 'Albatros', where McDowell last weekend won the French Open, one of Europe's oldest and most prestigious championships, by four strokes.
European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley explains it best. "Once again, Graeme showed that his strongest asset is his competitive nature. He's at his most dangerous when he gets himself into contention at any event.
"He's had so many positive experiences like this in recent years, Graeme has built up a big reservoir of confidence, of self-belief. It's a great bonus for any golfer to know that when the pressure comes on, he can rely on himself to take it to another level."
McDowell and Rory McIlroy starred on the victorious GB&I team captained by McGinley at the 2009 Seve Trophy and the Dubliner was an assistant to Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal at the past two Ryder Cups.
So McGinley has witnessed at first hand how the Portrush phenomenon flourishes under fire, especially at Celtic Manor in 2010, when McDowell famously clinched victory for Europe, one of the high points of a year in which he also won the US Open at Pebble Beach.
Last Sunday's win was 33-year-old McDowell's ninth on the European Tour and 12th in all as a professional, an impressive resume which includes his famous defeat of tournament host Tiger Woods in a fascinating head-to-head at the 2010 Chevron World Challenge.
Yet if the adrenalin's not pumping, McDowell can "find it hard to get going," explains McGinley, adding: "Ian Poulter's a bit like that too. It's not a bad thing. In fact, having a lot of highs and lows can be a big positive in our sport.
"I'd prefer it much better to being Mr Consistency. For example, two missed cuts followed by a win can be hugely more advantageous in terms of world ranking points, orders of merit and confidence than three successive top-10s."
Indeed, Sunday's win propelled McDowell to sixth in the world, his highest ranking since reaching a career-high fourth early in 2011. It's not unheard of for golfers to follow missed cuts with victories.
Vijay Singh failed to get beyond 36 holes at the 2008 British Open; won at Firestone a fortnight later; then missed the cut at the PGA and Wyndham Championships before romping home at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank to wrap up that year's FedEx Cup.
McDowell offers cogent reasons for each of his five missed cuts since April's US Masters. He played "a little too much golf leading up to Augusta" and "was fatigued come Thursday" of Masters week. Then "I was under-golfed going into the US Open," a situation exacerbated by appalling weather which limited pre-tournament play time at Merion.
As for the other three lost weekends, McDowell's history at Sawgrass, venue for The Players, and Wentworth, home of the BMW PGA, is speckled, while he'd played just four competitive rounds in five weeks before the Irish Open.
McDowell now turns his full attention to Muirfield, which he visits for the first time tomorrow. After this recce, he'll head home for a bit of links fine-tuning at Portrush and Royal Co Down before returning to Scotland on Monday.
Because he's such an affable, well-balanced individual off the golf course, it's easy to overlook how fiercely competitive McDowell is on it.
Life's sweet right now. McDowell's mum Marion and dad Kenny were at Le France National, while the Ulsterman took the opportunity walking up the 17th fairway on Sunday to send love and best wishes to his fiancee Kristin Stape and her daughter.
His charitable foundation has raised $1m towards a new cardiac care wing at Crumlin Children's Hospital in Dublin, while in April he and two business partners opened the Nona Blue bistro in Orlando. McDowell recently laughed out loud at a suggestion that he'll be the first pro golfer to open a bar and a hospital wing in the same season, replying: "I can take more credit for the bar than the hospital wing. I'm just a very, very small piece of that puzzle."
Forever forthright, he's sometimes painfully candid. McDowell wasn't slow to express surprise at McIlroy's decision to quit their Dublin management team Horizon, while the organisers of this week's Scottish Open and host club Castle Stuart were stung by his recent blunt assessment of the venue.
He and Sunday's rival Richard Sterne had a bit of craic, the South African even ribbing McDowell for a couple of crucial lucky breaks which went the Irish golfer's way down the stretch.
"He's a good kid and a great player, I've known him for a long time," said McDowell, adding: "I like to interact with my playing partners and the crowd."
Not all the time, however, as McIlroy and Shane Lowry discovered when they went head-to-head with McDowell respectively at the Volvo and Accenture World Championships and found their good pal in business mode.
Few are harder on themselves or less tolerant of their own shortcomings than McDowell, with close friend and caddie Ken Comboy the perfect foil in explosive situations. Yet far fewer are as focused or self-assured as McDowell when he makes it to Sunday afternoon and the bullets fly.