McDowell benefitting from renewed focus

Graeme McDowell with caddie Ken Comboy at TPC Sawgrass.

Graeme McDowell with caddie Ken Comboy at TPC Sawgrass.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Graeme McDowell’s performance at The Players Championship proves the world’s best aren’t immune from the mental torment golf inflicts on the rest of us.

Just two weeks ago, McDowell felt like he was at “rock bottom” with his golf game. His missed cut at the Zurich Classic was his third in four starts. He’d broken par just twice in his past 10 rounds. He hardly resembled the reigning U.S. Open champion, comparing himself to a 15-handicapper instead.

Now he's in contention at The Players. At 8-under 136 (67-69), McDowell was two shots back of leader David Toms when he finished his second round.

“You go through a spell like I’ve just gone through, where I just couldn’t piece anything together, you have crazy thoughts like, ‘Will I ever win again?’” said McDowell, the No. 5 player in the world. “When you’re out there for five-and-a-half hours and having a rough day, it’s amazing all the time you do have to think about stuff and self-reflect.

“It’s why we love it, it’s why we hate it, and it’s why it keeps us coming back for more.”

There’s only one direction to go from rock bottom, though.

McDowell shot 69 Friday despite making just one par on TPC Sawgrass’ back nine. He also had five birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey. He closed his round with a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-5 16th, a three-putt bogey on No. 17 and a 3-foot birdie putt on the 18th.

McDowell started this PGA Tour season with three consecutive top 10s, but this will be the closest he’s been to the lead to start a weekend. His third-place finish at Kapalua came courtesy of a final-round 62, and he finished sixth at the Honda Classic after a final-round 64 (McDowell also finished ninth at the WGC-Match Play).

He told his caddie, Ken Comboy, on Thursday that he missed being in contention. He’s in the hunt again after working with his coach, Pete Cowen, last week at Lake Nona.

After that session, McDowell said he feels more like the unflappable player from 2010 -- the one that held off a handful of Hall of Famers at Pebble Beach, that clinched the Ryder Cup and beat Tiger Woods on his home turf.

McDowell took four weeks off in January and Februray to relax after that run, which firmly entrenched him among the game’s elite. He admits he let his fundamentals lapse after that break. He’s spent much of the year switching between swing thoughts, sometimes in the middle of rounds.

“I haven’t really had much structure, much direction, and that’s why I did well last year,” he said. “I really feel like I turned the corner last week.”

McDowell said the tweaks he made to his swing last week may be imperceptible to the naked eye, but feel like a 180-degree change. He tried to lessen his right forearm rotation in his backswing. He now feels like his right palm faces right at the top of his backswing, instead of the back of his hand.

“You forget the ... things you worked on to get to the point in your golf swing where it feels easy, so you take your eye off certain departments,” McDowell said. “I’m not trying to say I haven’t been working hard this year. I’ve been working very hard this year, but ... I didn’t know what I was trying to achieve.”

This week, he’s trying to add another prestigious trophy to his mantle.

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