Saturday 25 November 2017

McDowell ready for duel in desert

Graeme McDowell. Photo: AP
Graeme McDowell. Photo: AP

Karl MacGinty in Dubai

GRAEME McDOWELL has always been fast on his feet... and quick on the counter.

So, when someone threw a boxing metaphor at the Portrush man and tried to paint his showdown with Martin Kaymer for the Race To Dubai title and a €2m jackpot as a battle between a scrapper and a technician, he rolled comfortably with the punchline.

"I think Martin actually used to do a bit of boxing in his young days," quipped McDowell with a broad grin. "So, I'm definitely not going to go down that road. I'm glad we're trying to beat up each other with golf clubs this week because I think I'd lose a fistfight!"

Kaymer might have tried his hand at the sweet science, but McDowell (31) is built like a brick outhouse; has forearms like Popeye après spinach, and never, ever gives up. He proved as much in the US Open at Pebble Beach and the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, where he was last man standing in a true war of attrition.

Irresistible though it might be to bill this weekend's Dubai World Championship as the European Tour equivalent of Hearns versus Hagler, the analogy doesn't quite work.

You see, Graeme 'The Hitman' McDowell and 'Marvellous' Martin Kaymer have to share the 'ring' with 58 other sluggers this week... and if none of them can beat the two money-leaders to that €1.09m Race to Dubai win-bonus, dozens will fancy their chances of claiming the €910,348 first prize that will go to the tournament winner on Sunday.

And that's why the odds weigh so heavily against McDowell this weekend as he tries to close the €290,911 gap between himself and 25-year-old Kaymer. He needs a victory; finish second just ahead of Kaymer; or third with Kaymer outside the top-20 to end the best season of his career as Europe's No 1 golfer.


Yet with World No 1 and defending champion Lee Westwood; Hong Kong hero Ian Poulter; rising star Rory McIlroy; three-time Major champions Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els, plus Italian boy wonder Matteo Manassero prominent among those hoping to round off their season with a knockout victory on a course tailor-made for big-hitters, that's an exceptionally tall order.

After his runaway win on the Earth Course last year, Westwood is a worthy favourite to win the tournament. The Englishman, almost fully recovered from the calf muscle tear which scuppered his chances of hanging onto the Race to Dubai title, insisted this week "he couldn't give a monkey's" about those who questioned his worth as Tiger's replacement at the top of the world.

Yet how sweet would it be for Westwood to ram home a point to his detractors this weekend? Believe it, McDowell and Kaymer certainly aren't the only men with a mission on the Earth Course.

McDowell cleverly opted for horse-racing, not boxing, as his metaphor of choice to describe how victory at Valderrama and two other close calls at Singapore and Hong Kong have given him precious momentum heading into his fifth tournament in a row.

Pointing to the near-€1m gap between himself and Kaymer a month ago, he said: "I had 25 lengths to make up and now I'm coming up the inside rail -- there's one fence left and I feel like I'm coming on strong."

As the European Tour's three Major champions this season -- McDowell, Kaymer and Louis Oosthuizen -- joined Westwood for a pre-tournament photo-shoot earlier this week, McDowell sensed "there definitely was an interesting atmosphere" between himself and PGA Championship winner Kaymer, whom he believed to be "a little quiet".

The German is a class golfer and a two-times winner in the Arabian Desert, but after a season which went "beyond my wildest dreams," McDowell's greatest weapon is his unyielding self-belief.

It saw him through at Pebble Beach and Celtic Manor, but one suspects this week is going to be the greatest test of them all.

Dubai World Championship,

Live, Sky Sports 3, 8.0am

Irish Independent

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