Resolute Graeme McDowell hungry to seal his Ryder Cup place
IF there was an elephant in the room at Le Golf National yesterday, nobody mentioned it.
The tournament hosts don't seem particularly bothered by thoughts of friction in the Ryder Cup camp now Graeme McDowell's name has been dragged into Rory McIlroy's Commercial Court action against Horizon.
The attention of the sporting fraternity here is firmly focused on another confrontation between European partners, France and Germany, in tomorrow's World Cup quarter-final.
McDowell, defending champion at Le Golf National, joked he could end up as referee when he plays in the tournament's marquee three-ball with Victor Dubuisson and US Open champion Martin Kaymer.
All three are happy that their late tee time today and early morning start tomorrow allows them tune in to the big match, especially Kaymer, who had to choose between golf and football as a boy and is friendly with several members of the German squad.
Securing a place on Paul McGinley's team is among McDowell's highest priorities right now, which clearly precludes any talk of what might happen if or when he gets to Gleneagles.
Qualifying for the Ryder Cup "is not something that I'm going to be thinking about every day I tee it up," he said. "But hopefully with a big effort this summer, I should be able to get myself on to that team."
McDowell conceded he put himself "slightly behind the eight ball" with regard to Ryder Cup qualification by playing just 11 times in the first six months of 2014.
"There was always that chance and I'm okay with it," he explained. "But then I've got more golf to play the next two and a half months than most guys.
"I've got this week's French Open, the British Open at Hoylake the week after next, the RBC Canadian Open, the WGC at Bridgestone, the PGA Championship and then straight into four FedEx Play-Off events, so the golf is all in front of me.
"My form these next couple of months will dictate whether I am on that team or if I'll need a wildcard pick or whether I miss the team altogether.
"So it's all in front of me," he said. "I'll not look back and say I was under-played as my Ryder Cup opportunity is now ahead of me. I'm fresh and playing well so now we just have to try and execute."
McDowell, whose wife Kristin is due to give birth to their first child in Orlando next month, deliberately recast his playing schedule in 2014 to help ensure he's in peak condition for golf's summer high-season.
At Le Golf National 12 months ago, he clinched his third victory in a two-month spell which, exasperatingly, also included five missed cuts.
"I'm more consistent this year but also really crave ... having those big weeks," confessed McDowell, who tied for sixth at the Irish Open after hitting a surprisingly barren stretch with his putter at Fota.
"Just didn't have the visuals on the greens that weekend," he said. "But the vibes were good and, after pacing myself for much of the year, it's nice to be as fresh and as well prepared as I was going into that week.
"So I'm looking to play well and compete here, with an eye on the British Open in two weeks' time," explained McDowell, insisting he's inspired, not pressured, by the mantle of champion at a challenging and atmospheric venue he enjoys.
Kaymer, who beat Lee Westwood in a sudden death play-off here five years ago, describes Le Golf National as his favourite course in Europe.
After wilting under the spotlight at his home event, the BMW International, last week, don't be surprised if the 29-year-old German clicks back into Sawgrass and Pinehurst mode from today.
Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington is the senior member of a 10-man Irish raiding party in 'Paris'.
It includes Q-School graduate Kevin Phelan, who tees it up here and at next week's Scottish Open in Royal Aberdeen hoping to secure one of three Open Championship places available to top-10 finishers at either venue not already exempt.
Phelan was thrilled to note a famous three-stroke victory by his former Irish team-mate Paul Dunne, the gifted Greystones amateur, in Tuesday's British Open qualifier at Woburn: "I'm delighted for Paul. He's a brilliant player and a really good guy."
Meanwhile, Ireland's US Open heroine Stephanie Meadow (22) will be among familiar faces when she makes her LET debut in the ISPS Handa Ladies European Masters at The Buckinghamshire today.
Jordanstown native Meadow plays with her 2012 Curtis Cup team-mate Charley Hull, just 18 but already a Tour winner and Solheim Cup star, and another teenager, Australia's World No 1 amateur Minjee Lee.
Typically, Meadow kept her feet firmly on the ground after securing a third-place finish at Pinehurst on her professional debut. "I take a lot of confidence from the US Open," she said.
"But you have to ground yourself again and remember to do your drills and all the stuff that makes you good."
LE GOLF NATIONAL
LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 9.30 & 2.30
THE GREENBRIER CLASSIC
LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 8.00