LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Graeme McDowell is in familiar territory. He will play in the final two-ball for the second major in a row.
This time he aims to make it count.
McDowell put himself right in the mix at Royal Lytham with a 3-under 67 to get to 7 under overall, four shots behind Adam Scott.
It produces a mouth-watering situation. He could make it back-to-back Open Championships for Northern Irishmen for the first time since Willie Park lifted golf’s original silverware at Prestwick in 1860, back in golf’s dark ages.
Indeed, McDowell suggested as much in a tweet to defending champion Darren Clarke early in the week.
“I said to him, ‘I’ve got a funny feeling that we’ll maybe be bringing that Claret Jug back to Northern Ireland next week,’” McDowell said. “I guess it would be fairly prophetic if I happened to get the job done tomorrow.”
A dream come true more like.
“Since I was a young boy, I’ve dreamed of coming down that last fairway on a Sunday afternoon, the last group in The Open Championship.
“All I can do is dream big, and I certainly will be dreaming big tonight.”
McDowell might be four back, but he has the experience of winning a major. His 2010 U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach could prove the difference.
“It will boil down to pressure,” McDowell said. “It will boil down to being scared, probably of failing more than winning. I can’t really relate to what Adam is feeling because he’s a hell of a player. He’s got the unfortunate burden of never having won a major championship.
“I’ve got the belief to know that if I get in the mix tomorrow, that maybe I’ll have the peace of mind to be able to do it.”
McDowell played in the last group at the Olympic Club in last month’s U.S. Open. He didn’t get the job done, coming up one shot shy of winner Webb Simpson in second place. That experience has strengthened him.
“I took a huge amount of positives away from Olympic. It’s the first time I’ve really kind of put myself in the absolute heat of the battle in a little while. I was reminded that I’m able to control my emotions correctly. I’m able to stay in the moment. And I’m able to kind of get the attitude right for that type of a challenge. Hopefully the positives I’ll be able to draw on tomorrow.”
The 31-year-old didn’t get off to the best of starts in the third round. Bogeys at the second and fourth holes set him back, but he managed to get back in the race.
“Through seven holes I kind of felt the tournament perhaps slipping away from me a little bit, and really had to dig deep for some patience and try to sort of put things in perspective.”
That perspective came at the par-4 8th hole when he hit a 2-iron off the tee and a 9-iron approach to 10 feet. He holed the birdie putt to get back to 4 under from whence he started. He was able to build from there. He made further birdies at Nos. 13, 14 and 17 to guarantee him a place beside Scott in the final round.
“The birdie on eight really settled me down,” he said. “From about the 14th tee onwards, it’s probably about as good as I’ve swung the club all week. I hit some nice shots coming in, some good putts.”
All the attention at the start of week centered on Rory McIlroy. The 23-year-old has stolen a lot of McDowell’s thunder recently. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way. McDowell is arguably the better player.
McDowell might not possess the same beautiful swing as McIlroy, but he’s arguably got more grit than his young friend. Forget Pebble Beach two years ago. How about how he delivered Europe’s winning point against Hunter Mahan in the cauldron of the 2010 Ryder Cup? Or the way he defeated Tiger Woods in a playoff for the 2010 Chevron World Challenge?
McDowell seems to thrive in the heat of battle. Moreover, the wind is supposed to pick up in the final round and turn Lytham from a near parkland pussycat to a links lion. That will favor the Northern Irishman since he was weaned on links golf.
Scott will be hard to catch as he chases his first major championship. However, if he slips McDowell will waste no time stepping in and taking the trophy.
Playing well under pressure is part of McDowell’s DNA.