INVERNESS, Scotland – Having had his head in the clouds for 12 months, Graeme McDowell feels he is finally ready to renew his bid for further grand-slam glory at next week’s British Open.
As recently crowned U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy is discovering, winning a first major title is a life-changing experience. The ninth-ranked McDowell, McIlroy’s fellow Northern Irishman, can certainly attest to that.
His U.S. Open success at Pebble Beach, followed by Europe’s Ryder Cup victory at Celtic Manor, completed a remarkable 2010 for McDowell and it took him a while to recover. Endless partying and constant back-slapping didn’t help.
Free from the burden of being a reigning major champion, the 31-year-old McDowell has happily passed the baton on to McIlroy and can sense further success at future majors, starting Thursday at Royal St. George’s.
“I feel fresh. I was already feeling that way at Congressional (last month at the U.S. Open), like a subconscious weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” he said.
“I really shouldn’t be complaining about the burden of being U.S. Open champion. I had a great 12 months and played some great golf but it had a negative side to it the last few months – leading up to the U.S. Open.”
Since winning at Pebble to become the first U.S. Open champion from Europe in 40 years, McDowell missed the cut at two majors – the 2010 PGA Championship and this year’s Masters – and failed to get anywhere near contention at the British Open and the U.S. Open.
He did hole the winning putt for Europe at The Ryder Cup in October but hasn’t tasted success in 2011, his best chance wasted at The Players Championship when he blew a one-stroke lead with a fourth-round 79.
He has looked more like his old self at this week’s Scottish Open, shooting an 8-under 64 on Friday to take a share of the lead early on the second day at the Castle Stuart course in the Highlands.
Mastering links conditions similar to those expected in Sandwich, McDowell demonstrated why he should be regarded as one of the favorites to land the year’s third major.
“I have really wanted to push on with my game and I didn’t really feel like I could, spending all of my time living 2010 again. But I feel really good,” he said.
“There’s another Northern Irishman to take all the attention off me, as well. I’ll let him handle that next week and I’m very happy just to push on with my game, keep working hard and get back to winning tournaments.”
Whether he gets to see McIlroy – his close friend, regular practice partner and Ryder Cup teammate – before the first round gets under way at Royal St. George’s is open to question.
“If his U.S. Open prep is anything to go by, he might not get there until Tuesday night. He flew late into Congressional – maybe that’s the magic recipe now. We’ll see,” McDowell said. “He’s going to be a busy man.”