ORLANDO, Fla. – Graeme McDowell, honest to a fault, says last year’s disaster at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was a wake-up call.
Nine months removed from his 2010 U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach, McDowell showed up at Bay Hill with a fuzzy mind and a scraggly golf game and shot 80 in the opening round. He was 17 shots better Friday when he shot a second-round 63 to share the lead with Jason Dufner at 9-under 135. Later, Tiger Woods clipped both to top the leaderboard at the end of the day.
“I remember playing last in the pro-am on the Wednesday last year and being on the range at 7:30 with my caddie just searching for a golf swing because I was off at 8 the next morning,” McDowell said. “I just wasn’t ready. I really wasn’t thinking. Golf was kind of slipping down the priority list. The rest of the stuff that I was trying to take care of was getting in the way.
“The panic button got flicked here last year and it took four or five months to get over that.”
It’s difficult to quantify, but also difficult to imagine that any other major champion has enjoyed his stint atop golf’s mountaintop as much as McDowell did after the U.S. Open. Later that year he was Europe’s hero for the Ryder Cup, he flew around the world, played often, partied more often and enjoyed the spoils that come with his position.
But it all took a toll on his game heading into 2011 and it showed at Bay Hill, a course 20 minutes from his Lake Nona home. Although McDowell was embarrassed by the result, he learned from it and now appears well out of his major funk.
“I feel like I’m a different person,” McDowell said. “I’ve learned a lot from my experiences last year. I feel like you learn more from those types of experiences than you do from shooting 63 at Bay Hill. There’s not much to learn out there except that if you play great and hole some putts, you can go low.”
McDowell’s trending into form. He tied for ninth at the Honda Classic and tied for 13th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. In his last nine rounds on the PGA Tour he’s recorded a 63, 64 and two 67s.
He made seven birdies and an eagle to record his 63 at Bay Hill. But aside from that and a clear, fresh mind, there was another reason why McDowell went so low.
“Sometimes they go straight,” McDowell said.
Miles straighter than when you shoot 80.