McDowell glad he tightened schedule

Graeme McDowell has limited his schedule this season beyond the major championships and is on the bubble of a 2014 Ryder Cup spot.

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For his 2013-14 schedule, Graeme McDowell played the fourth tournament available, the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. For his second tournament, he waited three months for event No. 12 on the calendar, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

True, he was leaving opportunities on the table and giving the field a bit of a head start in all these points races (FedEx Cup, money, Ryder Cup), but McDowell was committed to a bigger picture.

Consider it mission accomplished.

“I’m in a good place, mentally and physically. I’ve paced myself well this year and thankfully it’s paying off.”

Hard to argue against McDowell on this front. After finishing T-24 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and T-28 at the U.S. Open, McDowell has gone T-6 (Irish Open), first (French Open), T-9 (Open Championship), T-9 (RBC Canadian Open) and T-8 (Bridgestone). The rush has pushed McDowell to fourth on the Ryder Cup's World Points List. If the deadline were today, he would be an automatic pick.

That’s massive, in his eyes.

“I’d like to play my way on with my own merit, as opposed to waiting on a pick,” McDowell said. “To play my fourth Ryder Cup would be a great honor. I’ve paced myself well this season. I’m coming into good form this summer.”

McDowell is especially pleased that he stayed patient, that he remained committed, even when the results were less than satisfying earlier in the year. Never did he panic nor rearrange his schedule.

“The game is slowly improved over the last couple of months," he said. "I’m at that point now where I’m starting to believe I can hit the shots that I need every week if I pull it all together.”

For proof, consider how McDowell performed at the Bridgestone Invitational last week. In six previous trips to Firestone Country Club, the Northern Irishman had never finished better than T-22 and had shot in the 60s just three times in 24 rounds. This year he went 66-66 on the weekend for his third top-10 finish in as many weeks.

So, yes, he’s in great form at a most opportune time, the eve of the season’s final major championship. It’s a tournament that has treated him fairly well (McDowell has finished inside the top 15 four out of the last six times) and the venue, Valhalla Golf Club, brings back fond memories.

Though collegiate golf fans will remember McDowell as a stalwart for Alabama-Birmingham, in many ways he was introduced to the American public as a member of the European Ryder Cup team in 2008. McDowell sat out the first session that year, then went 2-1-1 thereafter, capped by a singles win over Stewart Cink.

The Europeans lost, of course, but McDowell in some ways considers that Ryder Cup debut as a more special memory than his winning putt in 2010 or the dramatic comeback in 2012. He is now, however, dragging out his old yardage book and planning to play Valhalla as he did in ’08.

“I really don’t have a lot of knowledge of how the course is going to play,” he said. “Certainly, it’s going to be a different setup from (2008). It’s not the longest course in the world, which makes me happy, for sure. These slugfest major championships, they sort of get old. It’ll be nice to play what sounds like a positional golf course.”

As for the way in which he has come on this year and roared inside the cutoff for European Ryder Cup points, McDowell is very satisfied. That his FedEx Cup standing (41st) and world ranking (15th) are solid are bonuses.

“I think I’m a guy who reacts well to measurable goals. I sort of looked at the world rankings two, three months ago and figured I had to post 75-100 points to guarantee my Ryder Cup spot. That’s the measurable stuff I’m talking about. I’ve ticked away nicely at it since the U.S. Open.”

Now 35 and married, McDowell is 13 years into his pro career and knows how things work best for him.

“I’ve always been like that when I get a little foggy with my goal-settin," he said. "But when things are measurable and very defined, I’m a bit better. Maybe having that Ryder Cup task hanging over my head has focused my mind better. I knuckled down. I stuck to my guns.”

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