Tuesday 23 July 2019

Upbeat Graeme McDowell targets Top 50 and looks forward to Irish Open after Pebble Beach 'grind'

Graeme McDowell hits from the rough on the second hole during the third round of the US Open Championship at Pebble Beach, California. Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Graeme McDowell hits from the rough on the second hole during the third round of the US Open Championship at Pebble Beach, California. Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Brian Keogh at Pebble Beach

Graeme McDowell remains upbeat about his return to the game's elite and looking forward to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Lahinch and his return home for The Open at Royal Portrush.

The Antrim native came back from three-over after nine to card a 72 and tie for 16th on three-under par at the US Open at Pebble Beach, California.

"The whole week has been a grind," McDowell said. "I didn't have my best stuff today, but I was really proud of the way I hung in there that back nine. I made a big mistake on nine, hit a big a double cross, hit the path and made double. From there, it was always going to be a tough day.

"The golf course was just a tad long for me this week. It was cold, not much run on the fairways, and it's no surprise to see guys like Woodland and Koepka up there because you had to move it off the tee this week.

"It helped if you could get it down there fairway and attack these greens with some shorters irons. All in all, good progress. I continued the rebuild and saw good stuff this week, so I'm very happy."

McDowell's goal is to return to the world's top 50 by Christmas and challenge for more majors and Ryder Cup appearances after getting a taste for the big time after his PGA Tour win in the Dominican Republic March secured his tour future until the end of 2021.

"The rebuild is getting myself back up there in the world rankings and being competitive on a week to week basis again," added McDowell, who turns 40 next month.

"I feel like I'm 25 or 30 again trying to get myself back up the rankings. I've done it once and maybe didn't appreciate it because when was there because when it went away, I missed that a lot.

"The rebuild is about getting back to being one of the top players in the world, and I feel like I can be up there competing against them more often.

"I appreciate it more than I ever did. When I was down there at 250th, 270th in the world, I knew what it meant to be top 100, top 50, top 20 in the world. It's a big deal. It requires consistency and great golf, and I am very proud of myself the way I have ground the last six months especially."

Shane Lowry has also enjoyed a resurgence in form over the past nine months, and he was pleased to grind out a two-under 69 despite not having his A game and claim a tie for 28th on one-under par.

"It was a nice finish because I didn't play great today," Lowry confessed after following a chip-in birdie from the putting surface at the 17th with a two-putt birdie at the 18th.

"It's the end of two long weeks, and I don't know how I shot 69, to be honest. I made quite a few par putts and a few good up and downs and finished 2-4, which was really nice.

"My two best shots of the week were my two shots to the last but all in all, I am happy. It's been two good weeks work over here after finishing second in Canada, and it does a whole lot for me, it's great.

"To be honest, I didn't have my A game this week, and I am going to get out of here with something like a top 25 finish and some valuable FedExCup points and Race to Dubai points. I am quite a happy man going home."

Gary Woodland decisively answered the major questions when he held off a charging Brooks Koepka to win the US Open by three strokes.

But the big questions remain unanswered by Rory McIlroy, who slipped quietly into the back seat of an SUV without stopping to talk about the rollercoaster, one-over 72 that left him eight shots behind the winner on five-under par.

The Co Down man might have made the cut in a US Open for the first time since 2015, but he was clearly disappointed that he failed to mount any kind of challenge on Sunday and mixed six birdies with three bogeys and two double bogeys, the first of which snuffed out his faint hopes of a final day charge.

Five strokes adrift overnight, he knew he needed to shoot in the mid-sixties to trouble the seemingly unflappable Woodland but never got any momentum.

A double-bogey six at the second, where he pulled his tee shot into deep rough, hacked his second shot a few feet into a fairway bunker and went from there to more sand greenside, all but buried him.

Had his eagle chip at the driveable fourth dropped rather than hit the pin and stopped on the lip, he might have found the spark he needed to ignite a blistering final day chase.

But he reversed almost every step forward with a step backwards, dropping a shot at the fifth, then following birdies at the sixth, seventh, 11th and 13th with bogeys at the eighth and 12th and a double-bogey six at the 16th.

A birdie at the last left McIlroy tied for ninth on five-under, giving him an incredible nine top-10 finishes and two wins from just 12 starts this year.

But his winless streak in the majors has been extended to 18 and he now heads to Scotland to prepare for The Open at Royal Portrush with much to ponder, especially missing ten greens in regulation on Sunday at a venue that required nerveless iron play.

Woodland (35) hit fewer fairways than McIlroy but missed only three greens, shining brightest on another overcast day on the Monterey Peninsula.

He was level par for the day, just a shot clear of Koepka with six holes to go but bravely went for the green and birdied the 14th, thechipped dead from the front right corner of the 17th green to save par and closed out the win by making a 30 footer down the hill on the 18th for a closing birdie.

His two-under 69 gave a three-shot win over the relentlessly consistent Koepka, who shot 68, on 13-under par.

"I've worked hard my whole life," said Koepka, the former All-State basketball star from Topeka in Kansas who quickly realised he wasn't going to make it to the NBA and concentrated on golf. "I've been surrounded by amazing people, and I always just wanted to be successful. I didn't know what it was, what I was going to do.

"I fell in love with golf, and it's transcended to today. And it all kind of came out of me. I never kind of let myself get ahead, just told myself it's never over, and when the last putt went in, it all came out."

Seeking his third US Open win in a row, Koepka birdied four of his first five holes to draw level with Justin Rose, just two strokes behind the eventual champion.

But Rose's long game troubles finally caught up with him, and he shot a 74 to end up tied for third with Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm and Chez Reavie on seven under.

"I played great," said Koepka, whose record for the last four majors reads 1st-T2-1st-2nd. "Nothing I could do. Gary played a great four days.

"That's what you've got to do if you want to win a US Open, win a major championship and hats off to him. Cool way to go out on 18, to make that bomb. He deserves it, he's worked hard, and I'm happy for him.

"It doesn't sting. I played great. I gave it my all. I give it my all every time and sometimes, like this week — it happened at Augusta — it's not meant to be. I played great. I hit every shot that I wanted to. And sometimes, no matter how good your good is, it isn't there."

Shane Lowry of Northern Ireland plays a shot from the 18th tee during the final round of the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach, California. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Shane Lowry of Northern Ireland plays a shot from the 18th tee during the final round of the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach, California. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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