McDowell on right course to even out Ryder odds
ODD or even? There's no question which option Graeme McDowell should choose at the roulette table.
Since winning in only his fourth tournament as a professional in 2002, McDowell's career has followed a peculiar pattern as he performed far better in even-numbered years than odd ones.
For example, McDowell's four European Tour victories all came in even years. The 2002 Scandinavian Masters was followed in 2004 by his win at the Italian Open. Then came the Ballantine's Championship and Scottish Open in 2008, when the Portrush man made an eminently impressive debut at the Ryder Cup in Valhalla.
Intriguingly, of 32 top-10 finishes achieved by McDowell in eight years on the European Tour, a trifling total of just eight came in the odd years of 2003 (1), 2005 (1), 2007 (4) and 2009 (2).
Of course, there was a wonderful twist to the tail-end of last season for McDowell when he stepped in to replace troubled tournament host Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge and charged into the world's top 50 on the back of a superlative second place.
This set him up nicely for the current campaign. Yet if there'd been a confident spring in McDowell's step entering 2010, the good form he's shown this year so far has been undermined by several baffling setbacks.
The quadruple-bogey eight McDowell took at the last on Friday at Bay Hill to miss the cut in the Arnold Palmer Invitational springs to mind. As do a series of unforced errors on the final nine of his second round at Augusta, which sent him tumbling out of The Masters.
Yet the quality golf which earned him a sixth-place finish at last month's WGC CA Championship in Doral and the impressive 68 last Sunday which yielded a tie for eighth at the Volvo China Open strongly suggest big results could be just around the corner for McDowell.
And where better for the Ulsterman to start evening out the odds against him making Europe's Ryder Cup team than this weekend at the Pinx Course on Jeju Island, Korea, where he clinched a dramatic play-off victory over Jeev Milkha Singh in the inaugural Ballantine's Championship two years ago.
The field in Korea is powerful. Recent US Tour winners Ernie Els and Anthony Kim will be there, alongside Jeju Island's own PGA champion and last Sunday's China Open winner, YE Yang.
Another local favourite, Seung-yul Noh (18), underlined the flourishing strength of Korean golf last month by winning the Maybank Malaysian Open
The six-strong Irish contingent on Jeju includes Paul McGinley, Peter Lawrie, Damien McGrane, Gareth Maybin and Irish Open champion Shane Lowry, who could be ready to start burning rubber after signing an endorsement deal with Atlas Tyres this week.
Currently 49th in the rankings, McDowell needs a good performance this weekend at the Ballentine's Championship to hold his place among the world's elite on Sunday night and make it into next month's US showpiece, The Players, at Sawgrass.
With a purse of $9.6m and a plethora of ranking points on offer at The Players, McDowell knows a good showing at Sawgrass would set him up nicely for the summer. Essentially, it's crunch time for the talented Rathmore man.
England's Brian Davis, a cult-hero in his sport after calling a two-stroke penalty on himself in last Sunday's play-off at the Verizon Heritage, will carry the best wishes of every golfer into today's first round of the $6.2m Zurich Classic of New Orelans.
Rebecca Coakley and Hazel Kavanagh were close to the top of the long-driving charts after their three-day road trip via Holyhead and Calais to Alicante for today's first round of the European Nations Cup at La Salle Resort.
Bragging rights were held by Jenni Knosa, who drove nearly 2,500 miles from Helsinki to the 18-nation event.
The most rested and best-versed players on the ourse will be America's Beth Daniel and Meg Mallon, who have been in situ since Saturday.
Sweden's Sophie Gustafson and Anna Nordqvist were equally untroubled by volcanic ash clouds on their journey from Jamaica, where the latter won the Mojo 6 on Sunday.
Live, Sky Sports 1, 6.0am & 1.0pm
Live, Sky Sports 2, 8.0pm
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.