BETHESDA, Md. – Graeme McDowell, what’s your greatest memory of Rory McIlroy?
“Probably drinking Jaeger bombs out of the Ryder Cup,” McDowell said. “I think that’s one of my better memories, period.”
McDowell isn’t thrilled to be giving up his U.S. Open crown, but if he must, he won’t mind perching it on top of the curly black hair of his friend and countryman Rory McIlroy.
The pair of Northern Irishmen showed how close they were last year at the Ryder Cup, when McIlroy broke away from an interview to embrace the European team’s hero, both of them screaming at the top of their lungs.
McDowell, the defending champion, shot 2-under 69 on Saturday, but he’s miles away from contention, as McIlroy sits 14-under par and holds an eight-shot lead over Y.E. Yang.
“You run out of superlatives to describe what he’s doing this week,” McDowell said. “He’s decimating the field.”
McDowell remembers hearing rumors about the young man from Holywood before playing a practice round with him prior to the 2007 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St. Andrews.
“We played for some cash and I shot 68 and lost easily,” McDowell recalled. “Playing practice rounds with him can be demoralizing, because you walk off feeling down on your own game when you see how he hits it.”
For years we’ve heard players warning us of how dominant McIlroy could be, none louder than McDowell. Saturday at Congressional, players were quick to throw out comparisons to Tiger Woods and his dominance in 2000 at Pebble Beach. Steve Stricker said he thought McIlroy’s swing looks as good as Tiger’s in its prime. Padraig Harrington went so far as to say he thought McIlroy would be the one to break Jack’s record of 18 major championships. (Rory’s response: “Paddy, Paddy, Paddy.”)
“I first heard about him when he shot 61 at my home course in Portrush. You hear rumors about people,” McDowell said. “You hear things, and good players come and go, but this kid was something a bit special.”
McDowell will tee off Sunday afternoon at 1:40, but as soon as he finishes, it’s not hard to figure out what he’ll be doing.
“Once I step off the 18th tomorrow, it’s a chance to get a cold beer and watch the wee man do it,” he said.
McDowell has gotten to know McIlroy as well as anyone over the past few years, playing countless practice rounds with the 22-year-old. Apart from his mammoth game, McDowell likes to talk about what a great person McIlroy is.
“For any kids sitting watching at home right now, he’s playing golf the way it should be played, as far as his attitude and just the way he carries himself,” McDowell said. “He’s going to be a great ambassador for the sport.
“I hope he goes on and does it, because I’ve been waiting for this to happen. He’s that good, there’s no doubt about it.”