DOHA, Qatar – Patience is the key for Graeme McDowell this year. The Northern Irishman is hoping that virtue will get him back to the form he showed in 2010.
McDowell’s U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach two years ago set his expectations sky high. Going from decent European Tour winner to major champion had him thirsting for more.
“I was a victim of my expectations last year,” McDowell admitted. “My expectations were up and my patience was down when it should have been the other way around.”
Instead of going on to contend in last year’s marquee events, McDowell missed the cut in three of the four majors. His only good showing came in defense of his U.S. Open title, where he finished 14th.
“It’s very tough to put my finger on just what it was in my game that was off. It was kind of week-to-week really. My short game was a little loose in the middle of the year. I really didn’t hole putts. I put myself under a lot of pressure probably on the greens.
“There were no panic buttons. There was no need to rebuild my swing over the off-season.
“I just got a little frustrated with myself in the middle of the year. I wanted it too much and got in my own way really. It was more a result of thinking badly than it was of doing anything particularly technically badly.”
The 32-year-old didn’t get into his groove last year until the end of the season.
“When the major season was over I really relaxed a little bit and played some good golf towards the end of the year. As soon as I took the pressure off myself, I felt a lot more comfortable and started to play better.
“It was a learning curve last year.”
And what has he learned? That it’s imperative to have a different attitude this year.
“I learned from a lot of mistakes last year as to my expectations levels, where they should be, my patience levels, and really just trying to think better.”
The new-found attitude seemed to work in Abu Dhabi, where he had a great weekend and finished T-3.
“I set myself some targets last week just to go out and accept whatever was going to be thrown at me, and to try to get in a relaxed mood on the golf course.
“Blasé is the wrong word, but you have to care a bit less and try and enjoy the game. All you can do is just prepare hard and work hard and just go out and try and let it happen.
“One of my big goals is to try and be a lot more chilled out.”
It will be interesting to see if the affable Northern Irishman can adhere to that simple philosophy, especially if he gets into contention in one of the tournaments that really matter.
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Lee Westwood has picked Australia’s Jason Day as the player to watch this year. The Australian had 10 top-10s last year, including runner-up finishes in the Masters and U.S. Open.
“I was asked last week about who will have a big year,” Westwood said. “I picked out Jason Day. I think he’s a talented player.”
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Defending champion Thomas Bjorn had his best year last season through re-dedication to the game. The Dane won three times after coming to a crossroads in his life.
“I made a decision two years ago after going through a spell of maybe not finding golf all that much fun anymore and falling out of love with the game and the traveling,” Bjorn said.
“I started focusing a little bit on other stuff off the golf course. I made the decision that if I wanted to play this game, I wanted to be able to be competitive and play with the best players in the world.
“To do that I had to totally refocus on golf.”
It worked. Besides the three wins, the Dane had his best finish on the European money list – ninth – in six seasons. He also won back-to-back tournaments for the first time in his career, finished fourth in the Open Championship and got back inside the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking.
Bjorn looks like carrying on the same form this season after a T-3 finish last week in Abu Dhabi.
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McDowell playing with Hunter Mahan is one of the more eye-catching, if predictable, match-ups of the first two rounds. They were famously involved in a singles duel for the 2010 Ryder Cup singles at Celtic Manor.
McDowell won the match to give Europe the Ryder Cup. Thankfully, the two have played a few times since then. If Mahan has any hard feelings, then he did his best to hide them on the eve of the tournament.
“I look forward to playing with him,” said Mahan, who will also get a chance to cast an eye over Branden Grace, a two-time winner already this season. “I don’t have any ill feelings. I’m excited I get to play with somebody I really know.’
Another prominent – and equally predictable – grouping features past and present European Ryder Cup captains Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal. They have played a number of times since Olazabal assumed Montgomerie’s captaincy. They play in the company of long-hitting Belgian Nicholas Colsaerts.
Meanwhile England’s Tommy Fleetwood, last year’s Challenge Tour winner, tees it up alongside John Daly. Talk about a baptism by fire.
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Peter Uihlein makes his European Tour debut this week. The 2010 U.S. Amateur champion tees off in the company of Ireland’s Damien McGrane and Thomas Aiken of South Africa. Uihlein made his European Challenge Tour debut last week in the Gujaret Kensville Challenge in India and finished T-12.