McDowell's game is re-emerging

By Randall MellJuly 26, 2012, 8:40 pm

If words were golf shots, Graeme McDowell’s name might be all over the game’s record books.

The man from Northern Ireland works the English language almost as effectively as he has been working a golf ball in major championships of late.

Perceptive and insightful, funny and charming, McDowell’s a natural with a microphone in front of him, as he showed again Thursday co-hosting Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive.”

What is it about Irishmen in golf? As a group, they can wax poetic on the game’s vagaries better than just about anyone. David Feherty, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy are all colorfully gifted communicators.

Maybe it’s the Legend of the Blarney Stone and the gift of eloquence it allegedly grants.

Video: Watch McDowell on Morning Drive

Whatever inspired the legion of Irish writers and poets, from William Yeats and James Joyce to George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, there’s a gift in the marrow of these players, too.

“I don’t know what it is,” said McDowell, 32, the 2010 U.S. Open champion who has figured largely in the last two majors. “Maybe it’s just our upbringing. We come from fairly humble backgrounds, and I think it’s something about the country we live in, with its traditions and humility. You picture us storytelling in front of a fireplace with a pint of Guinness and a musician playing. There is that culture, and I think a lot of it is the characters, a lot of characters.”

After his “Morning Drive” duties were complete, McDowell sat down to give his take on his re-emerging game and the last two majors.

After winning the U.S. Open two years ago, McDowell struggled making the transition to another level as a player and spokesman. He wasn’t much of a factor in last year’s majors, missing the cut in three of them. That has changed this summer. Though he didn’t come away with the trophies, McDowell gave himself a shot, earning a spot in the final Sunday pairings of both the U.S. Open and the British Open.

Here’s McDowell in his own words:

So what was it like getting a couple tastes of major championship contention after last year’s struggles?

“I definitely missed it. I craved to be back in that kind of scenario. 2011 was a tough year, but I think I learned a lot about myself and handling my new-found position within the game, I suppose, and the higher world ranking and just my own expectations. I feel like since September of last year, I’ve really put these things into use. I’ve been playing very consistently now for close to 12 months. I’m very happy where my game is, and I’m looking forward to the PGA Championship, the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup.”

How much did playing in the final Sunday pairings at the U.S. Open and British Open whet your appetite for more?

“There’s no doubt that I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been to compete in the biggest events in the world, especially the major championships. I reinforced, to myself, that I enjoy those scenarios. I have some things I need to address in my game, processes and routines, things that may not be as sharp as they need to be under pressure. I got off to flat starts both times this summer, but I’m generally happy the way I conducted myself under pressure and under that microscope again.”

Where do you need work to bring home the trophy next time?

“Pre-shot routines. I think my pre-shot routines in 2010 were really sharp but probably not as sharp right now. Just seeing shots, the imagery. I think I need to be a little more instinctive again; maybe I’m trying to be a little too perfect and prepare a little bit too well under pressure, instead of just letting the brain take over and being instinctive. That’s something I’m going to work on between now and the PGA.”

So what is it like being in the final Sunday pairing of a major? Is that fun? Or is that torture?

“I think the more you put yourself in those scenarios, the more comfortable you become. The U.S. Open was the first time I had been in that cauldron for a while. My body wasn’t quite used to the feelings and the emotions. The Open Championship I felt really good, really comfortable. I was a little nervous but nothing like I was at the U.S. Open.”

You had a close-up look at Adam Scott’s collapse. Where did you notice the narrative change for him as Ernie Els mounted his charge?

“Two events – Adam missing the putt on the 16th, and the roar [shortly after] with Ernie making birdie at the last. Obviously, we didn’t know he birdied the last, but we sensed it. There was such a big roar. It was the only thing that could have happened. Adam ripped it up the middle of 17 and then he did the only thing you couldn’t do, miss that green left. There’s a lot of room right of that pin. It wasn’t a good shot, but it was probably the only real bad full-swing miss he had all day. He really did hit the golf ball great. A great golf swing, just one of those guys you like to watch.”

Though you had chances the last two majors, you watched guys with belly putters win. You use a standard putter. So, are you waiting for the long putters and belly putters to be ruled out of the game?

“I fully expect they’ll ban them at some point. It’s going to be interesting, but I would be in the camp where I would like to see them go.”

Yet you don’t think they’re a giant advantage.

“I don’t think Adam putted very well in the last round, so I don’t think it was an advantage to him. If it was that advantageous, everyone would be using them. But, yes, when it comes down to a 6-footer under pressure on a Sunday afternoon at a major, it might just be that little bit easier to have one part of extraneous movement taken out by anchoring the putter to your body. It makes it just that little bit easier under pressure, but you still have to get yourself there.”

So are you champing at the bit to play the PGA Championship and give yourself another shot at winning your second major?

“I’m looking forward to it. I’m going to Kiawah Island on Tuesday on the way to Akron [for the WGC-Bridgestone].

I’m hoping it’s better than Whistling Straits. That wasn’t my favorite course. It looked very linksy. I loved the way it looked, but I just didn’t like the way it played. It was too soft.”

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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

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Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”