Monday 19 March 2018

Special memories can inspire McDowell on return to Ryder venue

Graeme McDowell had a spring in his step at Celtic Manor yesterday as he returned to the scene of Europe's Ryder Cup success and his own Welsh Open victory
Graeme McDowell had a spring in his step at Celtic Manor yesterday as he returned to the scene of Europe's Ryder Cup success and his own Welsh Open victory

William S Callahan

GRAEME McDOWELL has enough positive energy going into today's Saab Wales Open at Celtic Manor to light up the nearby city of Cardiff.

At every turn this week, the Ulsterman has been confronted by spine-tingling memories of last October's Ryder Cup triumph over the US -- not to mention fond recollections of a Welsh Open victory which last summer put McDowell on the road to US Open glory at Pebble Beach.

This morning, however, McDowell knows he must clear his head of the echoes of history if he is to retain his trophy.

Prominent among those who should make a determined attempt to snatch the title from the world No 5 is another Irish golfer, Shane Lowry, who has come to south Wales on a real high.

The 24-year-old from Clara followed up on his phenomenal birdie-birdie-eagle finish at the BMW PGA Championship last Sunday by winning a ticket to his first US Open the following day at Walton Heath.

While McDowell defends at Congressional, Lowry, his card safe after that lucrative joint-fourth place at Wentworth, is looking forward to an exciting voyage of discovery in Washington in a fortnight's time.

After spending the early months of the season on the injury list with a broken wrist, Lowry then endured a crisis of confidence as he missed three cuts on the trot.

"I was almost beginning to think 'when will I break 80 again?'," he admits with a rueful grin.

Yet Lowry steadied the ship in China and then reeled off four straight top-15 finishes, culminating in a phenomenal final-round 67 at Wentworth, which showed just how far he has come in the two years since his stunning Irish Open win as an amateur in Baltray. With confidence underpinning his natural flair, Lowry is playing with a smile once again.

In this form, he is as much a threat to McDowell as Welsh hero Rhys Davies, who shot a course-record 62 to get within three strokes of the 31-year-old Ulsterman here last May.

McDowell missed the cut for the fourth time in six events at Wentworth, a slip which can be attributed to the difficulty he had in reading the relatively new greens at the West Course.

Yet Celtic Manor is the perfect place to restore McDowell's confidence in his putter.

"It feels good to be back on greens that I like the look of this week," he said. I know I'm a great putter and I know I can hole putts. The Wentworth greens are still brand new and take a little time to settle down.

"And they kept them slow because of the wind conditions. I just putted awful and that drove me insane."

McDowell even paused on the 16th green with English caddie Ken Comboy the other day to recreate the crucial 15-foot putt which helped clinch the Ryder Cup and won European Tour 'Shot of the Year' for 2010.

Yes, he holed out once again.

The astonishing roars which greeted Europe's Ryder Cup triumph have long subsided, but the quiet echoes of history must have made the hairs stand up on McDowell's neck as he revisited the home team room and recalled the inspirational message an ailing Seve sent from Pedrena on the eve of battle.

"The Ryder Cup was something special and it's great to come into the clubhouse and see great photos and have great memories of what was an amazing weekend," he said.

Yet McDowell's focus is now on 2011 and his bid to once again light the blue touchpaper on his season in south Wales.

McIlroy in high spirits heading into Memorial

RORY McILROY can take a big step on the road to redemption at this weekend's Memorial Championship.

McIlroy managed a fighting third place in Malaysia the week after April's meltdown at The Masters, but it was always going to take time to heal the wounds sustained on Sunday at Augusta National.

Missing the cut at Quail Hollow did little for his confidence, but the 22-year-old bounced back from a frustrating, wind-tossed 76 in the first round of the BMW PGA Championship to replenish some of his competitive juices at Wentworth.

McIlroy rallied well during Friday's 70 and then revelled in Shane Lowry's company for Saturday's quick-fire 68.

Though his attempts to make a grandstand finish were ultimately frustrated, McIlroy was in high spirits heading for his rendezvous with the ever-supportive Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield Village.

"The game feels good and Memorial is one of my favourite weeks of the year," said the youngster, who could flourish on the slick, bentgrass greens in Ohio.

As Luke Donald recovers from his Wentworth heroics and fixes a few glitches in his swing, McIlroy's the one to watch.

Donald joins in praise for Padraig inspiration

NEW world No 1 Luke Donald last night joined the list of distinguished golfers who give Padraig Harrington credit for sparking the current European revolution in global golf.

Five of the world's current top six hail from Europe, so Donald was asked at Muirfield Village if it reminded him of the domination of Ballesteros, Langer, Lyle, Woosnam and Faldo during the '80s.

"I think it is somewhat cyclical," he agreed. "You need one guy to kind of inspire a generation to follow in his footsteps.

"For me, that probably was Padraig Harrington winning his Majors back in 2008, while I was on the couch (injured) with my arm in a sling."

When Martin Kaymer accepted Europe's Players' Player of the Year Award last week, he specifically thanked Harrington for inspiring him to practise hard enough on his short game to become a Major-winner.

The Dubliner is likely to slip out of the world's top 50 this week as he rests his injured knee, but his rivals clearly still rate Harrington among Europe's elite.

Celtic Manor Wales Open,

Sky Sports 1, 10.30

Memorial Tournament,

Sky Sports 3, 8.0

Irish Independent

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